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A Perfect Picture of Hell

Eyewitness Accounts by Civil War Prisoners from the 12th Iowa

Ted Genoways, Hugh H Genoways

Publication Year: 2001

From the shooting of an unarmed prisoner at Montgomery, Alabama, to a successful escape from Belle Isle, from the swelling floodwaters overtaking Cahaba Prison to the inferno that finally engulfed Andersonville, A Perfect Picture of Hell is a collection of harrowing narratives by soldiers from the 12th Iowa Infantry who survived imprisonment in the South during the Civil War.

Editors Ted Genoways and Hugh Genoways have collected the soldiers' startling accounts from diaries, letters, speeches, newspaper articles, and remembrances. Arranged chronologically, the eyewitness descriptions of the battles of Shiloh, Corinth, Jackson, and Tupelo, together with accompanying accounts of nearly every famous Confederate prison, create a shared vision


Published by: University of Iowa Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-ix


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xiv

"These accounts describe the imprisonment of members of the 12th Iowa Infantry in nearly every famous prison in the South — Andersonville, Libby, Belle Isle, Macon, Cahaba. Many of these narratives predate any other collected accounts of these prisons, making them of special importance. There are also pieces on lesser known camps, such as Tuscaloosa..."

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pp. 1-16

"Iowa had been a state for less than fifteen years in 1861. Situated on the western frontier, far from the outbreak of fighting at Fort Sumter, the young men of the state were nonetheless swift to answer when President Lincoln issued his call for troops on April 15. The established quota of 780 men was exceeded by nearly 200; 968 officers and enlisted men..."

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Captured at Shiloh

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pp. 17-23

"Near sundown on November 30, 1861, the fresh recruits of the 12th Iowa Infantry marched from the St. Louis train station to Benton Barracks, near the abandoned fairgrounds. They had a makeshift dinner of coffee and crackers and bedded down for the night. The next morning, as the regiment was ordered out for its first inspection, snow had already begun..."

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pp. 25-28

"We were up at the usual hour that Sunday morning had our breakfast and my company was forming for Sunday morning inspection when the long roll16 began beating at Regimental Headquarters and within a very few minutes we were on our way to the front. My guess would be that it..."

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pp. 29-41

"The sun was below the tree-tops as we marched from the field towards Corinth — prisoners of war. We passed over the ground which had been occupied until late in the afternoon by the force opposing Prentiss; it was almost covered with Confederate dead and wounded. Having gone into..."

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George Erwin Comstock, Company C

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pp. 42-45

"We were schoolmates at college (Upper Iowa University)35 in 1861 when that fatal day the first gun fired on Ft. Sumter went like an electric shock all through the North, firing the hearts of all loyal men to spring to the call of Our Father Abraham for three hundred thousand men. S. C. Beck,..."

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Seth Jones Crowhurst, Company E

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pp. 46-50

"Sunday morning, April 6th, 1862, we were startled by hearing the beatings of the long roll. Instantly all over camp we heard the order, ‘'Fall in! Fall in!'’ Hurriedly we buckled on our cartridge box full of ammunition, seized our guns, and were in line. We listened. In the distance we could hear the boom, boom, boom, of heavy guns. The Battle of Shiloh was on."

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Letter: October 24, 1862

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pp. 51

"Dear Father, Once more I take my pen in hand to write a few lines. I amonce more on free soil. I suppose you know I was taken prisoner by the rebels at the Battle of Pittsburg Landing on the 6th. of April last, and I was paroled Oct 17th. Having been in prison six months & eleven days, I have been through the capitals of Mississippi & Alabama through..."

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Letter: November 5, 1862

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pp. 52-54

"Dear Father, I sit down to write something in the shape of a letter. I am again in Benton Barracks, we reached here on day before yesterday. I saw Mr. Leonard yesterday. He started for Corinth yesterday afternoon directly after putting a letter in the office in which he wrote a little to you..."

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Bryon P. Zuver, Company D

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pp. 55-64

"As soon as the surrender was complete, the firing in our vicinity ceased, while awaiting orders to move off the field, our boys entered into conversation with the Regiment in our immediate proximity, which proved to be 1st La. Inf’y, a body of well dressed and well appearing men. From..."

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pp. 65-86

"Sunday, April 6, 1862. Pittsburgh [sic] Landing Tenn (Shiloah [sic]). —About 1⁄2 after 7 this morning we heard a fierce cannonading and heavy rolling of musketry . . . the enemy under Beauregard Bragg Hardee & Polk had attacked us in force — 60,000. We marched out & fell in with..."

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John W. Gift, Company F

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pp. 87-91

"It was on the morning of the 6th of April when the booming of the cannon was heard, at about five or perhaps half past five o’clock. Immediately the whole camp was on the alert, for we knew we had a fight on our hands. Where the enemy was, or how large a force he had, we knew nothing. Pretty..."

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Joseph B. Dorr, Company I

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pp. 92-104

"Sunday, April 6, 1862. — This book is too small for anything like a detailed account of my capture by rebels at the battle of Pittsburg Landing, Tenn., the above date. Nor is there room for an account of the engagement which resulted so disastrously to the Twelfth and Fourteenth Ia. Infantries, as well as parts of other regiments, amounting in all to two..."

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Letter: June 11, 1862

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pp. 105-106

"Hon. Samuel J. Kirkwood, Governor State of Iowa. Dear Sir: Lieut. John Elwell, of Company E, Twelfth Iowa, and myself made our escape from prison at Montgomery, Ala., on the 24th ultimo and reached Huntsville on the 28th, from which place to this city we accompanied 1,450 paroled privates, among which were 141 of the Twelfth, 200 of the Fourteenth, 230 of the Eighth and a number of the Third, Sixth, Seventh, Eleventh, Fifteenth and Sixteenth Iowa Regiments, all captured at..."

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Letter: July 16, 1862

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pp. 107-109

"Brig. Gen. P. A. Hackleman. General: I have already in the Missouri Republican of 18th June ultimo published an account of the condition and treatment of the Union soldiers captured at Shiloh by the rebels into whose hands they fell.82 But as Brigadier-General Oglesby, commanding this (Second) division, of the..."

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pp. 110-122

"I have had submitted to me a chapter on the prison life of members Co. D 12th Iowa Vols. captured at Shiloh, prepared by comrade Zuver, and am requested to give an account of the experiences of the commissioned officers who were captured at the same time, and also to continue..."

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An Open Letter

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pp. 123-125

"R. P. Clarkson, Esq., Des Moines, Iowa. Dear Dick: During the proceedings at the reunion, yesterday, I made an attempt to correct a statement of yours; but as you know, the subject proved too difficult for me to handle, and I was unable to finish my story. I regretted it sincerely, for there was a bit of inside history in what I tried to tell, that..."

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Edward M. Van Duzee, Company I

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pp. 126-155

"On the 6th and 7th days in April, 1862, at Pittsburg Landing, Tenn., there was fought one of the bloodiest as well as most decisive battles of the late war [of] rebellion. Forts Henry and Donelson, the former situated on the Tennessee river and the latter on the Cumberland, just below..."

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William W. Warner, Company C

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pp. 156

"Dear Father Knowing that you must be anxious to hear from me. I embrace the present opportunity of writing you. I wrote from Talladega. We came from that place to this about a week ago & are now quartered in the third story of a Hotel. We are as comfortably situated as we could expect. Yet I imagine that I can see that the confinement is making drafts on my..."

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Letter: May 23, 1862

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pp. 157

"Dear Father I embrace the opportunity of writing again. I am in good health much better than was some weeks ago. Capt. Earle & my Humble self made an attempt to escape. Had got [from] here some thirty or forty miles when we were arrested & again remanded to prison. I will say for our captors &..."

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Letter: May 28, 1862

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pp. 158

"Horatio Warner Clermont Iowa Selma Alabama May 28th 1862 My Dear Ones at Home Three officers have just recd orders to go to Washington in order to effect a general exchange of prisoners. I embrace this opportunity to write you. I have sent you several letters but do not know whether they have ever reached you or not. I think there is little doubt but this will & in return if you will write to me without delay addressing Major W. M. Stone, Commission of Exchange Washington D.C. He will bring it to me..."

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Letter: June 13, 1862

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pp. 159

"Dear Father I embrace the opportunity offered by the return to our lines of Capt. McMichael, he having been exchanged & write you. We left Selma yesterday reached here this morning, leave here to Atlanta tomorrow. We hear nothing about an exchange of officers. This is an awful life to lead. The men & Lieutenants of the 12th have been kept here but are now all..."

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pp. 160-168

"As soon as the prisoners on the Delett had arrived, the line of march for the depot of theWest Point and Montgomery Railroad was taken. . . . The major in command treated the paroled prisoners as well as was possible, and will long be remembered kindly by them. A train of box cars was soon loaded, and about dark pulled out, arriving atWest Point, Ga., just before..."

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pp. 170-174

"On the evening of April 7, 1862, after the Confederate forces had been driven from the field between Pittsburg Landing and Shiloh Church, the wounded and sick members of the 12th Iowa who had been left in camp the day before, among them Erastus B. Soper and David W. Reed, were informed of the capture of their comrades. Years later, Soper spoke of..."

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pp. 175-177

"On October 2nd orders came to break camp and abandon the post and report at Corinth, and on the same evening, we marched as far as across the Tuscumbia river, where we halted for the night, and the following morning, after destroying the bridge over that stream, resumed our march to rejoin Hackleman’s Brigade at Camp Montgomery. No August..."

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pp. 178-187

"After a short bivouac near midnight on Oct. 2nd, we arose to a hurried breakfast of hard tack, salt pork and black coffee, and then marched forward to the field of battle. As to the disposition or location of troops, even of our own Brigade, I can say nothing. My position was in the front rank,..."

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pp. 189-194

"The losses at Corinth were devastating. Three hundred forty-one men from the Union Brigade took the field October 3, 1862, by day’s end 109 were dead, wounded, or missing. The 12th suffered greatest of all: 4 dead, 28 wounded, 7 missing — a total of 39 men from the 80 who had entered the battle. It was the first and last major battle for the Union..."

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pp. 195-218

"Vicksburg surrendered, July 4, 1863, a great victory for the Federal Union. But resting not a moment upon laurels earned, Grant turned his conquering army eastward, toward the capital of Mississippi, which, though captured once, was now again in full possession of the enemy. So..."

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pp. 219-223

"On July 21, 1863, the Vicksburg campaign was officially ended. The members of the 12th Iowa set up tents and established Camp Hebron on Clear Creek, nine miles from Vicksburg. Over the next week, the officers lay in camp, preparing official reports of their activities in the campaign. Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Edgington entered his succinct report of the..."

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pp. 225-229

"Messrs. Editors: Gentlemen: Having read in your issue of this morning a cavalry officer’s account of the splendid fighting done by the cavalry and negroes in General Smith’s late expedition, it occurs to me that you, your readers, and the public generally, would like to know where the infantry were, and what..."

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William L. Henderson, Company C

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pp. 230-232

"My Dear Wife — We have just returned to this place today after one of the hardest campaigns we were ever in.We left here on the 5th of the month and we have been marching and fighting every day since, except one day we rested at Pontotoc. The heat has been more intense nearly all the time. But I have..."

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pp. 233-242

"On the march from Pontotoc toward Tupelo, Miss., July 13, 1864, the enemy appeared in force in our rear. Our Brigade, commanded by Col. J. J. Woods, was ordered back on double quick time about one mile. After halting, Col.Woods rode up to Col. Stibbs, Com’d’g Regiment, who.."

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John De Vine, Company I

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pp. 243-245

"De Vine of Company 'I’ and Buttolph of Company ‘D’ who had been left at Castle Morgan, Cahaba, in November spent the winter at that place and an eventful winter it proved to be. The prison 193 feet in length by 116 feet in width, outside measurement (as given by Jesse Hawes of the 9th Ill. Cav. in his book Cahaba), contained the greater part of the winter..."

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J. Warren Cotes, Company I

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pp. 246-256

"Of the corps of nurses, H. R. Andrews and Henry C. Winterstein of the 12th Iowa and a man by the name of [Thomas] Sheets, who had a son among the wounded, of the 35th Iowa, all of whom volunteered to remain, were the only ones who did not desert the wounded and leave them to the tender mercies of the confederates on the approach of..."

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An Open Letter

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pp. 257-258

D. W. Reed. My Dear Comrade: As the time for the next reunion draws near, I take the liberty to send you the following, as it is possible you might not be aware of all the facts: About the time of our reunion at Waterloo, Iowa [held in 1888], Sergt. Emery Clark of Co. ‘‘C’’ 12th Iowa Infantry, died at the Black Hills, S.D. You will doubtless remember that he was severely wounded, having..."

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pp. 259-261

"At the end of April 1865, poet Walt Whitman — then a nurse at the Armory hospital in Washington, D.C. — made the following entry in The releas’d prisoners of war are now coming up from the southern prisons. I have seen a number of them. The sight is worse than any sight of battle-fields, or any collection of wounded, even the..."

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John H. Stibbs

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pp. 262-279

"I have been introduced to you as the sole survivor4 of the Court that tried Captain Henry Wirz, the keeper of the Andersonville Prison, and I have been asked to tell you something of the prison and its management. Were it not for reasons herein given my preference would be to say nothing on the subject, not because I would shirk the responsibility of having..."

Biographies of Individuals Mentioned in the Accounts

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pp. 281-309


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pp. 311-321

literature cited

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pp. 323-327


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pp. 329-337

E-ISBN-13: 9781587293276
E-ISBN-10: 1587293277
Print-ISBN-13: 9780877457596
Print-ISBN-10: 087745759X

Page Count: 355
Publication Year: 2001

Edition: 1

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Subject Headings

  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Prisoners and prisons.
  • Prisoners of war -- United States -- Biography.
  • Iowa -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Personal narratives.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Personal narratives.
  • Iowa -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Regimental histories.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Regimental histories
  • United States. Army. Iowa Infantry Regiment, 12th (1861-1866).
  • Soldiers -- Iowa -- Biography.
  • Military prisons -- Confederate States of America -- History -- Sources.
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