Heber S. Thompson Papers, Aug.-Dec. 1864
| Manuscripts Gifts 2007 | Front Page 2007 | Previous Issues | Friends of the Library |
A gift to SCL Manuscripts Division announced in 2007
Manuscript volume, 24 August-16 December 1864, Civil War prisoner-of-war diary of Capt. Heber S. Thompson (b. 1841), who served with the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry, focuses upon Thompson’s experiences at the 1st South Carolina Hospital located four miles from Charleston at Rikersville South Carolina. | Manuscripts Gifts 2007 | Previous Issues | Endowments | Friends of the Library |
The diary indicates that the hospital was not for Federal officers alone but admitted “private soldiers black & white.” “They by this I suppose consider that they are putting into practice our ideas of negro equality,” Thompson mused. Regarding his surroundings, Thompson recorded: “everything is clean, clothing, bedding & victuals.” Several entries refer to hospital food. Early in his confinement he noted that the “quantity is ample & the quality good,” but later in the diary he talks about the shortages of rations he and fellow prisoners received.
Dr. George Rogers Clark Todd (1825-1900), brother-in-law of Abraham Lincoln, is mentioned by Thompson, who indicated that the doctor was good to his Union patients whenever he was not drinking. At one point, the diary records, Dr. Todd administered a few grains of opium to a patient suffering with a leg wound, and Thompson himself had a malarial fever broken through a quinine regimen.
African-American soldiers from the 54th Massachusetts Infantry who had been captured during the assault on Fort Wagner served at the hospital as nurses, and the diary also tells of prisoners transferred there from Andersonville, noting the poor condition they were in and suggesting that death was common in their ranks. In his entry of 2 December 1864, Thompson talks about the horrendous conditions, due in part to stalled prisoner exchange, faced by a another group of sick prisoners “who had already arrived at Charleston & were left lying…exposed to the weather without any protection whatever. Such inhumanity! Many are dying daily.”
Thompson repeatedly writes of his hope for parole, the possibility of which was reinforced at times by the local newspapers. On a number of occasions, he shares his opinion on governmental exchange policies. At the end of October, he learns from a Sister of Mercy about an agreement by which he was to be exchanged by early November. In response, he wrote, “Hope to Heaven we shall.” In time, however, though some of his friends were exchanged, Heber Thompson was not among the number. “...I hated being left,” he wrote, and “felt terribly lonesome.” Then, in mid-December, he wrote excitedly: “...paroled for exchange tomorrow. Glorious!!!”
Thompson gives a detailed description of his departure from Charleston, describing the course the steamer followed out of the harbor and writing about both Confederate and Union military positions along his route. Fort Sumter, the diarist notes, “...in magnitude fell decidedly below my imagined Fort....” The Union blockading fleet he describes in part as “monitors, queer looking animals almost entirely under water with their towers showing numerous dints...proofs that they had seen service....”