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CV: V1N10: Burnside’s Controversy with a Prisoner

Editor’s Note: Base transcription is from the CD-ROM version of The Confederate Veteran at Eastern Digital.  Minor corrections were made by Brett Schulte.




Col. Abram Fulkerson, of Bristol, Tenn., has written a strong paper upon the operations of Grant along the James River and about Petersburg2. He reports his capture3 and a conversation with General [Ambrose] Burnside, before whom he was carried. He states: The General had dismounted and was seated on a campstool, and was surrounded by negro guards. The prisoners were halted at the line of guards, and the officer in charge announced to the General that they had captured the colonel of a regiment, many officers and men, three flags, and several pieces of artillery. Rising from his seat General Burnside approached us, and, addressing me, inquired what regiment I commanded, and being informed that it was a Tennessee regiment, he asked from what part of the State. “From East Tennessee,” I replied. With an expression of astonishment, General Burnside said, “It is very strange that you should be fighting us when three fourths of the people of East Tennessee are on our side.” Feeling the rebuke unjust and unbecoming an officer of his rank and position, I replied, with as much spirit as I dare manifest, “Well, General, we have the satisfaction of knowing, that if three fourths of our people are on your side, that the respectable people are on our side.” At this the General flew into a rage of passion and railed at me, “You are a liar, you are a liar, sir, and you know it.” I replied, “General, I am a prisoner and you have the power to abuse me as you please, but as to respectability that is a matter of opinion. We regard no man respectable who deserts his country and takes up arms against his own people.” To this General Burnside replied, ” I’ve been in East Tennessee, I was at Knoxville, I know those people, and when you say that such men as Andrew Johnson, Brownlow, Baxter, Temple, Netherland and others are not respectable, you lie, sir, and you will have to answer for it.” At this point I expected he would order me shot by his negro guards, but he continued. “Not to any human power, but to a higher power.” With a feeling of relief I answered, “O, General, I am ready to take that responsibility.” “Take him on, take him on,” the General shouted to our guards, and thence we were marched some two or three miles toward City Point, to the headquarters of General [Marsena R.] Patrick, the Provost Marshal General of Grant’s army, where we were guarded during the day in a field, without shelter and under a burning sun. In other respects we were treated with the consideration due prisoners of war, by General Patrick, whom we found to be a gentleman. Besides the duty of receiving prisoners and forwarding them to prison, it seemed to be General Patrick’s duty to receive the stragglers of General Grant’s army and send them to their respective commands, and I feel safe in making the statement, that during the day we were at his quarters, there were more stragglers brought in by the cavalry, than the total number of Confederates opposing the advance of Grant’s army upon Petersburg, during the 16th and 17th of June, before the arrival of Lee’s army. We were next taken to City Point, James River, and from there to Fort Delaware by steamer. Fort Delaware was one of the regular Federal prisons, situated upon an island in the Delaware River, opposite Delaware City, forty miles below Philadelphia. At one time there was as many as two thousand five hundred officers, and eight thousand private soldiers confined in that prison. The story is a long one and intensely interesting. Colonel Fulkerson tells of their being taken to Fort Delaware, and how, after a time, six hundred officers were selected and taken to Charleston and placed under the fire of the Confederate cannon as a retaliatory measure. He gives an account of how the steamer ran aground en route, and that the determination was made to demand its surrender, which would have been accomplished, no doubt, but for the sudden appearance of a gun boat. The demand for surrender was made by Col. Van H. Manning, who commanded the Third Arkansas, and subsequent to the war was a member of congress from Mississippi. On retiring from public life he began the practice of law Washington City. He lived on his country place a few miles from Washington in great luxury until his death, which occurred last year. These six hundred were exposed to cruelties on the trip that were revolting. Happily, when they were placed under fire of the Confederate guns off Charleston, our gunners fired with such accuracy that they were comparatively out of danger. The horrid treatment of these prisoners is too revolting to be described in the VETERAN. Strange the Federal soldiers largely concur with the partisan element of the North in denying the true stories of the treatment of Confederate prisoners.


  1. Fulkerson, Abram and S. A. Cunningham (ed.). “Burnside’s Controversy with a Prisoner.” Confederate Veteran, Volume 1, Number 10, p. 306
  2. SOPO Editor’s Note: This “strong paper” appeared in Volume 22 (1894) of the Southern Historical Society Papers, pages 128-147, as “THE PRISON EXPERIENCE OF A CONFEDERATE SOLDIER, BY ABRAM FULKERSON, late Colonel Sixty-third Tennessee Infantry, Army of Northern Virginia.”
  3. SOPO Editor’s Note: Colonel Abram Fulkerson of the 63rd Tennessee was captured on June 17, 1864 at the Second Battle of Petersburg.  He became one of the “Immortal 600”, Confederate POWs held as human shields on Morris Island outside of Charleston, SC.
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