A Day in the Life of Jens Dahle: ~ 30 August 1864

Belle IslandOn or about this date, the Confederates moved Jens Dahle, and James Everhart, the diarist, from Libby Prison, crossed the James River to Belle Isle.  This prison was located an island overlooking Richmond, Virginia.  Jens and James stayed at Belle Isle until October of 1864. [1]

Belle Isle was a “tent” type prison in that there was no permanent structure to house the prisoners who were housed in tents. The James River served as  a deterrent to escapes. [2] This view  in the photo is taken looking at Richmond. [3]

Early in the war, prisoners would be exchanged between the two armies.  In April of 1864, General Ulysses S. Grant recognized that this exchange program was advantageous to the Confederates as the Confederate exchanged soldiers went back into the Confederate Army contrary to their oath upon release, whereas the Union soldiers went home.  Grant cancelled all further exchanges.  Prisons like Belle Isle, sized for 1000 prisoners, swelled almost overnight to many times that number. [4] This was true for prisons in the north and the south.  As a consequence, housing became crude, food shortages were chronic and deaths mounted as sanitary conditions became rudimentary and pathogens infiltrated what water supplies were available.  Death became common place. [5]

Next posting: 8 October 1864. Jens is transferred to Salisbury Prison.


[1] CMSR, Jens Dahle.
[2] “Civil War Prisons,” Civil War Home (http://www.civilwarhome.com/prisons.htm : accessed 24 August 2014)
[3] “Belle Isle, 1863,” NARA.
[4] “Exchange of Prisoners in the Clvii War,” Civil War Home, online (http://www.civilwarhome.com : accessed 18 January 2012)[4] McLaughlin, 245.
[5] “Civil War Prison,” Civil War Home.


7 comments on “A Day in the Life of Jens Dahle: ~ 30 August 1864

  1. Mary Swenson says:

    Fascinating information about my great-grandfather! It amazes me that he survived such conditions! Thank you for these posts.

  2. Ray Hager says:

    My great-grandfather Jens must of been one tough Norwegian! Thanks much!
    Ray Hager

  3. Dee says:

    Jill — I, too, had an ancestor captured at Ream’s Station and ultimately transferred to Salisbury Prison. He was with the PA 53rd. This summer I’ve been following the trail of the war from Spotsylvania (where his brother was killed) to Ream’s Station. I’ve been trying to figure out what happened in the days and weeks following his capture, and you’re blog is a tremendous help!! I actually live just outside Richmond and just today did a tour of the prisons and hospitals in the area. I look forward to more of your posts, and hope to review the sources you’ve used — THANK YOU for sharing the sources! So many people fail to source their information!

    • jkmorelli says:

      I think you will find the article from The Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine by Florence C. Maclaughlin most interesting. Any academic library should be able to get it for you. You might also want to check out my mini-book called Jens T. Dahle: An Immigrant’s Civil War, which I self-published on lulu.com. It describes his journey in more detail. You are lucky to be so close to the physical place.

      • Michael Hager says:


        The Jens Dahle family is having a reunion September 19th in Morristown minnesota, of you are interested.

        Michael Hager
        Great grandson of Jens.

      • Jill Morelli says:

        Thanks for the invite. I wont’ be able to make it as my September/October is filled with lecturing around the Puget Sound area but I wish you all the fun-est of times and remember–he was not wounded and he wasn’t at Antietam! 🙂 Doesn’t mean he wasn’t a hero and doesn’t mean he didn’t suffer–he did. My best to the family. Jill

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