I left off on my last post with Edward McCleary's parents desperately waiting to hear from their son.  The last letter they received included a hurried goodbye as he was off to the front lines.  (click here to read the last post if you haven't already).

After waiting for more than one month to receive news, McCleary's parents received the following letter from McLellan (a fellow lieutenant in McCleary's Regiment):

Camp Near Petersburgh, VA
July 10th 1864

Mr. McCleary
Dear Sir--

I received a letter from my brother last evening there was a note enclosed from you inquiring about your son, E.G. McCleary. 

On the morning of the third of June at Cold Harbor, V.A., he was missing on the charge of Gaines Hill--I inquired but could trace no tidings of him.  On the 8th of June, Capt. K.E. Jones and myself went over the battlefield and tried to find him but saw no person to answer his description or rank.  On picking up a paper last evening, I saw his name among a list of Officers now prisoners at Libby.  You will observe by reading it over that he is badly wounded in three places and is in Libby Prison Hospital.  Give my respects to all his folks.

Yours Respectfully,
Charles McLellan, Lieut.
7th NYV Artillery

Enclosed along with this letter was a newspaper clipping showing the following:

Libby Prison, located in Richmond, Virginia, was perhaps the most notorious POW camp of the South.  Known for rampant disease, inadequate food, and a high mortality rate, it was the last place an injured soldier would want to go.  According to the New York Times, "the average mortality rate is near 40 per day," and was estimated to rise to as high as "50 per day, or 1,500 monthly."  The increase in deaths was attributed to "insufficient food, clothing and shelter, combined with that depression of spirits brought on so often by long confinement." 

McCleary somehow got access to Libby Prison stationary--as you can see, the poem printed on the front of it was as disheartening as possible.  McCleary did not use this stationary until he could adequately assure his family that he would survive.

Thus, the news that their son was taken to Libby Prison was bittersweet.  At least he was alive--but would he remain so for long?

As it turns out, McClearly wrote a letter to his parents on June 10, 1864, but he never mailed it to them, perhaps because of his condition or he was not permitted to do so.  The letter was eventually published in a newspaper, it read (for the full version, read the article for yourself below):

Dear Parents--
I take the earliest opportunity to write and inform you of my whereabouts, and let you know that I am still alive, and that is saying all; for I am stretched out on my back and liable to remain so for a few months.  I was wounded on the 3rd of June at a place called Gain's Mills.  We charged on the enemy's breast works at four in the morning, when I was laid out by a musket ball passing through my thigh.  I lay on the field where I fell for fifteen hours.  About three o'clock in the afternoon I got another shot in the knee and just after dark I got an ugly one right in the abdomen; the ball laid in there till the next morning.  About nine o'clock the Rebs. came over and gathered about a dozen of us wounded and sent us to the hospital.  The next day we were all sent to Richmond....  I am in hopes that I may be paroled or exchanged before next winter....  I shall know what a home is and appreciate it better than I ever did before.  My wounds are very severe, but not mortal.  If I can keep them clean through the warm weather I will be all right.  I keep them constantly wet.  They are beginning to run and smell bad....  I am nearly naked at present, but I guess I can tough it through.  I must close now.  Hoping to hear from you soon, I remain, your affectionate son, Edward G. McCleary.

Instead of sending the rather bleak letter above, McCleary sent his parents the following one, dated June 23, 1864:

Dear Father, Mother, and Sister
I am under the necessity of writing kind of a family letter for the reason that writing materials are very scarce....  I have been boarding here at the Libby jail three weeks.  It is a great institution--everything is free, gratis, for nothing, no board or doctor's bills to pay, and notwithstanding all of these advantages, I would much rather stay a week than a month.  It is rather tedious for me to lay here on my back week after week with no friend near to keep my spirits up.  Still I have got a great deal to be thankful for.  My wounds are doing well and I think in the course of a couple of months more I will be as good as ever.  I think as soon as this Campaign is ended there will be a General Exchange of Prisoners.  If this is the case I shall be able to come home again for twenty or thirty days before I join my Regmt.  The Regmt. may be sent back to their old quarters this Fall.  I hope they will be. . . . 

I intend to get out of the service when this old Regmt. is mustered out or sooner and if I am ever fortunate enough to get back to that happy home once more I think I can content myself the rest of my life in making a place comfortable for you and mother in your age.  My thoughts are constantly with you and it lightens many many a long hour to think of times past and many happy days in store for us all. . . .  I will close looking ahead for brighter days when peace shall reign over our once happy land and wars will be no more.

Yours affectionately,
Lieut. E.G. McCleary


The mail of a POW was not always reliably sent.  Thus, when, by the end of July, McCleary had not heard from his parents or sister, he wrote another letter to them.  As you can see, his June 10th letter lacked much humor, while his June 23rd letter showed that his spirits were beginning to revive themselves (especially with the bit about how great it was to have free board and medical consultations).  By the time he wrote his July 27, 1864 letter, McCleary was more firmly back to his humorous antics.  As you can see from the heading of the letter I excerpt below, rather than present his situation as being detained in Libby Prison, he jocularly referred to his place of confinement as the "Hotel De Libby" (McCleary's father had a habit of underlining all misspelled words in his son's letters, and I think the little pencil hand pointing at McCleary's joke was likely written by his father--not so sure he approved of the jest).

July 27, 1864
Hotel De Libby

Dear Parents,

I know not [whether] you have received my previous letters as I have not heard from you since I came here.  But, as there is a Flag of Truce boat running up now nearly every week you will be quite [sure] to get this and have an opportunity to answer it.

It will be eight weeks tomorrow since I was captured and I know how much anxiety you must have felt for me.  It was reported in the Regmt. that I fell dead in the enemys Rifle Pitts when we made that bloody charge on the third of June.  It was at Cold Harbor near Gains Mills.  The wounds in my abdomen and thigh are entirely healed up.  I walk around some on one crutch as I can not bear much weight on my right leg as the knee is still a little stiff and sore.  We are in very good quarters all I have to complain of is the grub.  The rations are very short and I have experienced many a hungry day since I saw you last, but I care nothing about that.  My anxiety is about you I have been afraid you had taken the news of my death to heart and would pine over it.  But keep up your hopes I am coming out all right and if we get exchanged soon which we expect to, I will try and come home before I join my Regmt...


I am going to leave off with my story at this point.  McCleary was healing nicely, but still a POW.  Whether he would ever make it back home to see his parents or when he would be released as part of an exchange deal between the Union and Confederacy were questions that surely weighed heavily on the minds of McCleary and his family. 

In my next post, I will tell just what became of McCleary.


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