We left off with Edward McCleary informing his parents that, despite being shot in his thigh, leg, and abdomen, and spending over twenty-four hours lying wounded in a field before he was captured as a POW, he was healing nicely and he expected a full recovery. He was still housed in the notorious Libby Prison, where as many as 50 men died each day because of the poor conditions. For McCleary, he mentioned that he went to sleep hungry many nights, but he did not otherwise hint at how awful his experience probably was.
After being captured by the Confederates on June 3, 1854, McCleary remained a prisoner at Libby until sometime around November 18, 1864, for in a letter bearing that date addressed to his sister, McCleary explains that he was transferred out of Libby, though he had not yet been "exchanged" and returned to his Regiment.
McCleary was moved to the U.S. General Hospital in Annapolis, Maryland, and when he wrote to his sister, he secured stationary that had a picture of the place he was staying, even placing a dot of ink on the building (the dot is in blue ink--do you see it?) that had become his temporary residence.
... it is a perfect little Eden here the buildings you see are all Hospitals and I should judge they occupied about fifteen acres of ground all laid out with walks and shade trees. We have a fine view down the Chesapeake Bay and plenty of white sails can be seen of all kinds of craft. There is a lively band kept here which [plays] the sweetest music. Each room contains four neat little beds, also a good coal fire which burns night and day. Capt. Marsh occupies the room with me. He is an old Vet and was with me in Libby. I am not yet Exchanged and don't know when I shall be....
We have an Officer in the next room who is crazy. He is Adjutant of the 11th Va.... and was with me in Libby. He was badly wounded in the shoulder with a piece of shell and appeared to be a real intelligent and good-hearted man. After he was paroled and sent here he learned that his Lady Love had proved false and married another man. He is quite rational on other subjects but when he talks about that the poor fellow can't contain himself. He has been religiously inclined and takes me in to all his private councils. I would like to have you try an experiment just for the novelty and for his good also. Write him a nice letter saying you learned his address through a friend and expressing your sympathy for him as one of our Country's brave defenders who had been suffering from wounds and imprisonment in behalf of our Nation's honor. It might divert his mind and make him a man once more.
I don't know if McCleary's sister complied with McCleary's request to send a letter to his suffering friend, but it seems that McCleary--as is apparent from many of his letters--was always concerned about the well-being of the people around him and his family.
A few weeks later, McCleary was transferred again, this time to Camp Parole. His spirits remained high, as this letter to his mother shows:
Camp Parole near Annapolis, MD
Dec. 4th, 1864
This is just such a Sunday morning as I could enjoy if I were at home. The sun shines in through my window warm and bright and all the men in Camp are looking happy for they are just receiving 30 days furlough to visit their friends after being prisoners from 4 to 20 months....
I am getting along fine, enough to eat and enough to mess. There is a rumor that we are exchanged but I don't believe it. I was Officer of the Day yesterday and have command now of one Co. numbering 133 men. They will all go home this week.
My Love to All and Write Soon,
Chances are, rumors of exchange were common and so, although many of the men being housed with McCleary were being "exchanged"--which refers, I believe, to the Confederacy agreeing to release X number of Union POWS in exchange for release of X number of Confederate POWs by the Union--McCleary did not seem hopeful that his turn would some come.
But it did. Less than two weeks after he sent this last letter home, Special Order No. 3112 was issued by the Quartermaster General's Office. A copy of this document is below.
Pursuant to instructions Received from the War Department ... dated Washington D.C. Dec. 6th, 1864--the following named Officer, having been declared exchanged will immediately join their Respective Commands for duty.
2 Lieut. E McCleary, 7th NYV. Arty--
The Quarter Masters Department will furnish the necessary transportation
By Order of
Col. A. R. Root
It's kind of interesting that all it took was this one handwritten letter to execute McCleary's release (I can only imagine what it would take today to negotiate the release of prisoners of war), but McCleary followed orders and proceeded straight to his Regiment--not his home. It's unclear if he received a furlough so he could visit his parents and sister, but he continued to serve in the Union Army through 1865. He was even sent back to the front lines. In fact, the letters that I have suggest his spirits were a little lower after he was released from Confederate hands, since he was once again on the move and he didn't receive mail from his family very regularly. For example, a March 1865 letter to his sister began:
Fort McHenry, MD March 22, 1865
It is rather discouraging to write home as I have not heard a word from any of you since I left the front. We have moved so often since then the letters are lost. I think you can direct to this place for we shall not move far from here....
This is an old and very strong Fort. There are a great many prisoners confined here, both Rebels and Bounty Jumpers. The Provost Marshall wants me for an assistant in his Office, but as I am the only Officer in the Company, I don't feel like leaving them alone. It is but 12 hours ride from there to here and you can take that trip we were planning out last Spring when the weather gets a little warmer.
McCleary's reference to his sister coming to visit is not unique--the public would sometimes picnic from vistas near the frontlines so they could watch the Civil War battles. It doesn't seem that McCleary's sister would do just that, but if she made a trip, she would likely stay at a nearby inn and the two would spend time together when McCleary was off duty.
On April 12, 1865--two days before the Confederacy surrendered--McClearly wrote his mother for the last time as an enlisted officer.
Fort McHenry, Md. April 12th 1865
I have received one letter from you since I left the front.... We are quite sure of staying here the rest of our time I am going to be relieved from the Command of my Company tomorrow. As I have been detailed in the Office as Asst Provost Marshall. I will have charge of all the Rebel Prisoners at this Post, which number sometimes 1000. Things have changed since last summer....
My pants are worn out as I do not want to buy any more as my time is so near out. I am on Guard today so excuse me for not writing more.
He made it. McClearly survived the Civil War, even though he had been shot three times, captured as a POW, and lived in the Libby Prison for months. Now, he faced the battle of adjusting back to civilian life--would he get married? Would he live a long life? Were his wounds healed as well as he said they were? The final installment will answer these questions and provide a glimpse of McCleary's personal life and how he spent the remainder of his life.