In the year of 1864, Johanna Cardiff was becoming a young woman; the war that had split her country continued. This is her journal; these are her journeys.
I must record my thoughts on the prisoner of war camp, called Barracks #3, the Army has forced upon us. The government has refitted a few buildings from what was once the abandoned post known as Camp Rathbun.
I have written to you, dear brother, and stated my complaints quite clearly, I believe. When we, the town of Elmira was informed the camp would be located here, we stood together, as good Union supporters and accepted the proposal.
We were to allow a prison in our community that would house no more than 2,000 men. The camp has been in operation now for some 5 months and the current muster is listed at 5, 673 souls. I know you can factor, dear brother, but that is more than double the promised quota. What is more concerning is the fact; the Confederate soldiers continue to arrive every day. Another 27 men disembarked the train this morning. At what number does it end?
I walked passed the camp a few days ago, and as it happened, I was downwind from the prisoners, and their facilities. I cannot describe to you the stench that rode on the evening breeze. They do not have enough of anything needed to provide adequate housing. Their water supply is empty, their food has spoiled, and their latrine system is more than full.
The men themselves, who did not arrive in a healthy condition, have grown steadily worse. They do not have appropriate clothes or shelter. Many of them live in the out of doors with little more than a wool blanket thrown over a low-slung rope or line. I worry about how they will fare once the weather turns cold.
I know these men are our enemies and I suspect many of them have killed or maimed men like you and Luke. I’m told I should hate them and wish them harm. I struggle to do that. I am not swayed by my Christian faith; I realized I am far from a saint. In honesty, I must admit when I see the faces of the prisoners, lost, afraid and so far from their homes, I see the face of my brother. I pray, if he were ever to be captured, the Southerners would treat him better than we are treating them.
I pray you are safe, dear brother.
*Authors note: Camp Elmira, Barracks #3 was opened in the summer of 1864. It was designed and built to house a total of 2,000 men. It incarcerated 12,123 men at its peak. 2,963 of the men died from malnutrition, prolonged exposure to weather, dismal sanitary conditions, and lack of medical care. The dead are buried in Woodlawn National Cemetery. An ex-slave named John W. Jones, cared for the dead and saw to a proper burial for each man. But that’s another story.