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Auction Name: 2020 December 6 Arms & Armor, Civil War & Militaria Signature Auction - Dallas
Lot Number: 40224
Shortcut to Lot: HA.com/6229-40224
Elmira Prison, N.Y.: Letter written by Sgt. Alfred N. Wilcox, 19th Infantry U. S. Veteran Reserve Corps describing the profitable rat business going on in prison.
Elmira Prison was one of the worst POW prisons in the North. Many prisoners froze to death and had very little to eat. Alfred N. Wilcox originally served in Co. G of the 14th CT. Infantry. When his enlistment was up he went into the Veteran Reserve Corps. In this letter Wilcox is writing to his daughter Carrie, while his regiment was working at the prison. The letter is headed, "Elmira, N. York, Jan. 12th/65". He states:
"I have been at work on the barracks all day, & I do not feel much like writing. So I hope that you will excuse me if my letter is short &uninteresting. I wonder if you have received the ring that I sent you. I are in hopes to get a letter in reply to the one which I sent your ring in when the mail comes." (The ring was probably made by prisoners as they had a thriving business going on in ring making!)
"It is splendid sleighing here now. The weather is cold." (Elmira had more prisoners freeze to death than any other Northern prison. It was referred to as "The Andersonville of the North", and was dubbed "Hellmira" by its inmates. Most of the prisoners slept in tents. During the 12 months from July 6th, 1864 when it opened until July 11th, 1865, 2,970 of the 12,100 prisoners would die.)
"A man that has been in charge of building barracks in the Rebel Prison told me that he was at the mess room a few days since when a Rebel prisoner came there & said, Mr. will you give me some grease to fry a rat for a sick man and he said that the Prisoners think that fried rats are very nice. A man in charge of the rebel prisoners has made quite a sum on money buying rats skins of the rebels & taking them outside & selling them. He gave one cent apiece for them & sold them for ten cents. (Big Speculation)" "
Carrie how do you like the picture of Sergt. Hyde [Segt. Elbert F. Hyde of the 14th CT]? How do you like Dave Goodman's wife? Have you had any Sleigh rides yet? The mail has come, but no letter for me. I do wonder why. Well! I guess that I shall get one next mail. So you see that I live in hope. Give my love to Alice & Emilie. I am pretty well Good Night From your Aff. Father A. N. Wilcox"
"Friday Morning - It is very pleasant thus I am going to work on barrack. If we have good luck I think we shall get into the barracks next week. I hope that we shall, for we can take care of the men much better in barracks, then in tents. Alfred"
This 3 page letter comes with its original cover (missing stamp) and is in fine condition. A wonderful example of the humorous, yet pathetic things that went on in the life of a prisoner of war. From the Calvin Packard Civil War Battlefield Letter Collection.