THE CIVIL WAR
Life on Belle Isle

Previous Next Civil War Exhibit Page Home Search
Record 6/294
Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
Admin/Biog History Joseph Arnold was the son of Frederick and Margaret (Mack) Arnold, both from Bavaria, Frederick came to America in 1835 and married Margaret several years later, 1843 family moved to Milwaukee, WI, and in 1851 to Oshkosh. Frederick was employed as a soap and candle maker in 1857. Joseph was employed as a butcher according to the 1860 census. Joseph went to Milwaukee in April 1861 and enlisted in Company H, 1st Wisconsin Infantry (Three Months Regiment). He served in Virginia and saw action at the Battle of Falling Waters. he mustered out of service on August 15, 1861. Joseph reenlisted in Fond du Lac on Augst 15, 1862, as a sergeant in Company E, 26th Wisconsin Infantry (Seigel Regiment). He fought in the battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg (where he was captured on July 1, 1863) and was a prisoner of war at Belle Isle near Richmond, Virginia until March 7, 1864. He participated in the Atlanta Campaign, March to the Sea, and the March Through the Carolinas. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant on February 11, 1865 and commanded the company as senior officer and briefly commanded Company H. He musterd out on June 13, 1865. After the war he operated a restaurant and bottled mineral water in Oshksoh. He married Matilda Moss on November 24, 1868 and raised four daughters. Arnold was active in the Grand Army of the Republic and was commander of the Phillip H. Sheridan Post #10 in Oshkosh. His widow loaned the artifacts, photographs, and archival material to the museum at an unspecified date.
Classification Archives
Collection Joseph Arnold Collection
Dates of Accumulation 1864
Abstract Life on Belle Isle was written by Joseph Arnold while recooperating in a hospital following his release from a Confederate prison camp on Belle Isle near Richmond, Virginia. It details the conditions of Union soldiers in the prison camp.

Life on Belle Isle
[By Joseph Arnold]

After arriving in Richmond we staid on the cars about three hours. During this time, Jews and speculators came around offering us thirty-five [dollars in] Confederate [money] for one dollar [in] greenbacks . Pies were sold at one dollar apiece, apples fifty cents apiece, and boys were caring around the Richmond Paper selling them at fifty cents a piece. After waiting until about ten o'clock on the cars, orders came for us to fall in and we were taken to a tobacco warehouse opposite the Libby Prison. The officers were put into the Libby and we into the tobacco warehouse, and then searched again for money, taking knapsacks, and haversacks from us. We had now nothing left but the few rags we had on our backs. We were packed as close as we could stand. Windows were only one [at] each end of the building and we almost suffocated. After remaining in this condition about two hours, we were taken out and marched to the island. [The island], which is situated in the James River and nearly between Richmond and Manchester, is connected with a railroad bridge [that] is built over the river from Manchester.

The Island
On the island, there is a foundry and rolling mill and several dwellings belonging to the rolling mill. On the opposite, or north side, is the prisoner's camp, which is about two acres square and contained tents for 3,000 men. Outside of the camp, and around, a wall of dirt was thrown up with a ditch ten feet wide on every side. Outside of the outer ditch run the guard line. After arriving on the island, we were all paroled, put into squads, and numbered. I was then ordered to take charge of the 34th squad, which consisted of all the Wisconsin boys of the 6th, 2nd, 7th, 3rd, and 26th regiments and we were then turned into Camp Hell.

We all were pretty much starved, not having anything [to eat] since we left Staunton. I asked the commander of the island, whether we would draw rations that evening. But he told me that we could not get any until the next day at ten o'clock. We were all by this time tired out. I lay down in the ditch. We received No instructions to the contrary. One of the boys that came in with me wanted to go over the ditch, and before anything was said to him, a ball whirred passed his head coming very near me. I moved my position a little to the rear, took my towel, into which I had my revolver tied up, and laid it under my head. And in the morning when I woke up it was gone. In the forenoon, at about ten o'clock, it became quite lively around the camp and I soon learnt what was up. I went down to the gate and when my turn came drew rations for my squad. This consisted of three ounces of bread 1ounce of fresh beef. In the afternoon we received rations again, 3ounces of bread [and] pint of thin soup. This now was to be our daily ration, but the women in Richmond would sometimes raid on the bread that was on its way to Bell Island and then we would not get any bread. Other times the flour would be short and they could not bake any.

On the 11th day of August, a bright star could be seen very near the sun at three o'clock in the afternoon. On the 14th, one of the guards fired into our camp killing one and wounding two men. Daily, prisoners are coming in from different parts, some from Charleston and some gunboatmen who were taken in a picket boat. They were sailors of the Wabash. On the 25th, my squad received tents, [but] meat began to grow less, and the rations became more and more iregular.

On the 27th, the rebels were throwing shells along across the island. One burst, throwing pieces through the tents, but fortunately did not hurt anyone. The 28th, all the sick were taken across the river. On the 31st, some men tore up an old tent to cover themselves. Some were bucked [and gagged]; some tied up by the thumbs, and the others put on a rail for punishment.

From the 1st to the 5th of September, nothing of interest happened, only some [prisoners] dying every day and salt was "played out". On the 6th, the cartridge factory opposite the island exploded [and the] Rebels [are] sending out troops in the Petersburg Railroad. On the 16th [of September, I] received a letter from home. On the 17th, Sutlers, Sailors, and Teamsters were paroled. On the 21st, a squad of 640 went to City Point. [On the] 24th, 600 yanks left for City Point. Salt was now selling on the island of twenty-five cents a spoonful. September 28th, a squad of 1000 prisoners arrived on the island, but there being no room inside the camp [they] had to remain outside and were afterward sent to the city. [During] September, men were daily dying in camp. I sees one man was sick vomit his ration after he had ate and another one came along picked it out of the sand and ate it, which I seen done several times. Our bread consisted now of rye and corn, meat [is] getting more scarce. We received sweet potatoes [and] having no wood to cook them, we ate them raw.

October 8th, M. Jenkens, Company I, died. October 14th, Clark of the 6th Wisconsin went to the river after water, came back, lay down and died, all within thirty minutes. October 15th, a Rebel guard [was] shot on post for trading with the Yanks. October 24th, 1000 men captured from Meade's Army were brought on the island. October 16th, the Rebs fearing a break by the Yanks doubled the guards and placed signal lights on the flat staff to enable the batteries to get range of us. Fights occurred daily on the island. Men were stabbed and robbed in broad daylight. General Neil Dow visited the hole [and] promised us clothing.

November 10th, received some clothing from [the] United States [government].
Bread was now made entirely out of corn. Meat was played out altogether. We would sometimes receive one spoonful of dry beans, meat being played out. We had to, and our ration reduced to bread and water, all dogs, rats and mice were now caught and cooked and ate. Two men being caught at having killed the sergeant's dog, were taken out and made to eat it raw, which they readily did, asking for more.

It now being around Christmas we were allowed or received three sticks of wood for two [men] and sometimes it would have to last three or four days. Between Christmas an New Years, 600 were paroled and sent to City Point. Nothing new was now going on. The island was to thickly crowded [and] they could not turn us out to count us. And I took the opportunity to keep on drawing rations on the names of those that were sent away sick and died. And [I] was drawing 83 rations, having only 50 men in my squad, which I divided equally among my squad, believing [it to be] the only way we could manage to keep alive. Those men that were now dying were laid out behind the tents and about twenty yards from our camp and there to lie there fourteen days ere they were buried. The Hogs eating the faces off of them. We could not witness this dreadful spectacle any longer and wrote a request to the officer commanding the Island to allow us to bury our dead, which was not answered. But, a day after that, the Rebs buried them. We had by this time begun to live more like beasts than human beings, forgetting altogether our existence until the 7th day of March. We were Paroled and sent on a flag of truce boat down the river to City Point. The feeling was inexpressible, when once again we saw the glorious old Stars and Stripes at the masthead of our flag of truce steamer, City of New York.
Event Civil War
Category 8: Communication Artifact
Legal Status Oshkosh Public Museum
Notes Joseph Arnold was the son of Frederick and Margaret (Mack) Arnold, both from Bavaria, Frederick came to America in 1835 and married Margaret several years later, 1843 family moved to Milwaukee, WI, and in 1851 to Oshkosh. Frederick was employed as a soap and candle maker in 1857. Joseph was employed as a butcher according to the 1860 census. Joseph went to Milwaukee in April 1861 and enlisted in Company H, 1st Wisconsin Infantry (Three Months Regiment). He served in Virginia and saw action at the Battle of Falling Waters. he mustered out of service on August 15, 1861. Joseph reenlisted in Fond du Lac on Augst 15, 1862, as a sergeant in Company E, 26th Wisconsin Infantry (Seigel Regiment). He fought in the battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg (where he was captured on July 1, 1863) and was a prisoner of war at Belle Isle near Richmond, Virginia until March 7, 1864. He participated in the Atlanta Campaign, March to the Sea, and the March Through the Carolinas. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant on February 11, 1865 and commanded the company as senior officer and briefly commanded Company H. He musterd out on June 13, 1865. After the war he operated a restaurant and bottled mineral water in Oshksoh. He married Matilda Moss on November 24, 1868 and raised four daughters. Arnold was active in the Grand Army of the Republic and was commander of the Phillip H. Sheridan Post #10 in Oshkosh. His widow loaned the artifacts, photographs, and archival material to the museum at an unspecified date.
Object ID RG1.4
Object Name History
People Arnold, Joseph/
Subjects Civil War/Campaigns & battles/Camps/26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry/German-Americans/Prisoners of war/Food
Title Life on Belle Isle
COPYRIGHT INFORMATION ~ For access to this image, contact scross@ci.oshkosh.wi.us

NOTICE: This material may be freely used by non-commercial entities for educational and/or research purposes as long as this message remains on all copied material. These electronic pages cannot be reproduced in any format for profit or other presentation without the permission of The Oshkosh Public Museum. 2005 Oshkosh Public Museum, All Rights Reserved   
Last modified on: December 12, 2009