A Day in the Life of Jens Dahle: 27 August 1864

Where was Jens Dahle 150 years ago today?

Dahle confederate rosterJust two days previously, the Confederate Army led by Hampton captured 1000 Union soldiers at the Battle of Ream’s Station, Jens Dahle was one.  He and his fellow prisoners were loaded onto a rail car and taken to Richmond, Virginia.  As with most Union prisoners, Jens was processed through a warehouse conscripted by the Confederate army and called Libby Prison.  The photo on the left is the original Confederate roster of Union prisoners processed at Libby on 27 August 1864.[1]  Jens Dahle is noted with the red box.  Officers were imprisoned on the upper floors; the lower floors were for the processing of prisoners before moving the regulars out to other locations.

The record of the capture, transference by train, intake at Libby and subsequent details of prison life are taken from the diary of  Sergeant James Everhart of Allegheny, Pennsylvania (Company G, 8th PA RES, Volunteer Corps) who kept a diary during his concurrent stay with Jens.  It is doubtful James and Jens knew each other as each unit would stay with its own.  And while Jens’s experience would have been different (e.g. he was already weakened by the bout of dysentery he had suffered the year before) James’s experience and the dates they occurred are almost mirrored day to day until their release in February 1865. [2]

Libby no longer stands but is memorialized by a plaque on the side of a flood wall on the James. [3]

Jill

[1] Confederate Record of Jens T. Dahle.  List of Federal Troops Captured at Reams Station, Virginia on August 25, 1864 and Recorded at Confederate Military Prison in Richmond, Virginia August 27, 1864, NARA, Identifier 616054; Record Group 249, Records of the Commissary General of Prisoners, 1861-1905.
[2] Florence C. McLaughlin, editor, “Diary of Salisbury Prison by James Everhart,” The Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, July 1973,
213-214.
[3] Personal observation by Jill Morelli, July 2013.

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6 comments on “A Day in the Life of Jens Dahle: 27 August 1864

  1. Dana says:

    I was looking forward to reading an excerpt of the diary. 🙂 What a neat item to learn more about what life was like for your ancestor.

  2. Dee says:

    Here’s another diary for James Bailey. He was with our ancestors from Ream’s Station to Salisbury: http://civilwar.nygenweb.net/regiments/jameslbaileydiary.html

    • jkmorelli says:

      This is very interesting and thanks for sharing. James Bailey had much more information about the train trip from Belle Island (now called Belle Isle) and Salisbury. I think his experiences are more similar to the experiences of Jens than that of James Everhart. James Everhart was an officer and in good health when he arrived (he walked out of prison when paroled.) Jens had already had a 7-month bout of diarhhea/dysentary the year before. Going to the hospital was the equivalent of death because the conditions were so poor–no beds, straw on the ground, few doctors etc. The patients did receive quinine when it was available, which wasn’t regularly. James Bailey died one month before he would have been paroled. Thank you.

      • Dee says:

        My ancestor also dealt with chronic diarrhea, like yours and so many others. The first record of his hospitalization for it was just about 2-3 weeks after arriving at Salisbury Prison. From October to February 1865 he was in-and-out of the prison hospital, often for several weeks at a time. He somehow survived long enough to get home and even married in late 1865. But, the ailment continued and caused his death in 1867 (chronic diarrhea and an enlarged liver).

        The onset of symptoms probably started within days of being infected so I’m guessing that he didn’t pick it up in the Petersburg trenches… probably something he picked up on Belle Island or at Salisbury. From what I’ve read elsewhere, the men had a lot of difficulty getting clean water and food at Belle Island. I just read a biography about a man who was describing how they shared strings and used quart jugs or even boots to toss out into the river in hopes of retrieving cleaner water. And at Salisbury there was one stream through the prison camp and they didn’t realize that even though the “latrine” area of the stream was downstream from the part of the stream set aside for drinking water, that it was possible for the bacteria to move upstream…..

        In case you are interested, local National Park Rangers here in the Richmond/Petersburg area have pointed me to several online resources. The newspaper articles on these sites are particularly helpful as they provide additional information on the movement of the prisoners. Of course, there is a bit of a bias towards the CSA — but it’s fascinating to read!! Mike Gorman’s site: http://mdgorman.com/Prisons/prisons.htm and The Richmond Daily Dispatch: http://dlxs.richmond.edu/d/ddr/.

        I’ll try to locate the other document with the description of life on Belle Isle. There are several on the Gorman site. I am here in the Richmond area, so if you need anything, let me know 🙂

      • jkmorelli says:

        Illnesses typically caused by bad sanitary conditions (diarrhea, dysentery etc.) caused 2/3s of the deaths during the Civil War… with battle wounds the remaining !/3. So, it is more likely that your soldier suffered from it throughout the war and it recurred with a vengeance when the sanitary conditions sunk to the lowest. The information about the stream is interesting because that is not the information I have. Where did you find that? There was a stream at Andersonville Prison but I am not aware of any moving water through the Salisbury site; there is a record of at least 5 wells for water. Doesn’t matter…they were contaminated also. These connections you provided will be of help to my friends. Jens Dahle is their ancestor and not mine. Thanks for passing them on.

      • Dee says:

        from the website http://www.rowancounty.info/salisburyprison/
        “11,700 unknown Union soldiers are thought to be buried in 18 trenches, each 240 feet long, dug in an abandoned corn field outside the Confederate Prison stockades. Government records indicate about half that many. Salisbury National Cemetery encompassed this mass grave site, now a grassy expanse marked by a head and foot stone for each trench. In the upper end of the stockade was a spring that supplied the water for the prison. The lower end of the stream was the latrine area. There were also trips made outside the prison to a nearby stream for fresh water. Unaware that bacteria could travel upstream, the rest is history. “

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