Archive for May 14th, 2009

Although my own 2nd Great-Grandfather was wounded in battle during the Civil War and suffered terribly from those wounds for the remainder of his life, he did survive the war and return to his family. Another family member, whose story follows, was not so fortunate.

Lyman H. Needham, Co. K., 42nd Illinois

Lyman H. Needham, Sergeant, Co. K., 42nd Illinois

Sergeant Lyman H. Needham (a son of my children’s 5th Great-Grandfather Benjamin Cooley Needham by his second wife, Lois Huntley) was listed as an artist in Civil War military records. He was wounded and taken captive on September 20, 1863, the second day of the fighting at Chickamauga in northwest Georgia. On September 29, he was processed for confinement in Confederate prisons at Richmond, Virginia. The family first had direct news of his whereabouts in a communication from the regiment, now in the holdings of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library at Springfield, Illinois. The fragment has no year and no signature, but reads as follows:

November 12th

Sergt. Needham was wounded on Thursday Sept 20th in the chin and is now a prisoner in Richmond, Va. His wound is not supposed to be serious, as all those who were dangerously wounded were brought within our lines under a flag of truce. As you know, Capt. Foster is also in Richmond and it is from him that we have intelligence of Needham.

Capt. Foster was Joseph Foster, Capt. of Company K of the 42nd Illinois. The text of Lyman’s first letter from Danville follows:

Danville, Va. March 18th, 1864

Dear Brother and Sister,

At last I have been permitted to hear from “home,” and I hardly know how to express my delight in hearing that “all are well.” I received the box of things you sent on the 16th inst. and everything came safe, and it is appreciated dearly. I am in very good health, and have been since I have been a prisoner. There is not a good prospect of a speedy exchange or parole, which is gratifying for us to learn. If this prospect should be blighted (and you will know it is soon as we shall) I want you to send me another box, with some of the same kind of articles and also some ham, crackers, socks, shoes, mustard, coffee, soap, colored handkerchiefs, tin cup, cheap pocket knife and lots of reading matter, also suspenders and anything else you see fit to send not contraband. I want you to write often and tell the rest of my folks to write to me. Tell me the loss in my company and where the regt now is. In sending a letter you should enclose ten cents to pay postage from City Point [Virginia]. How was I reported in the company? and when did you first hear from me? My respects to all who see fit to inquire about

Your Brother
Lyman H. Needham
Co. “K” 42d Ill. Infty.
Prison No 6. 1st Floor
Danville, Va.

Lyman wrote again from Prison No 6, 1st Floor, Danville to his father. By this date, many of his imprisoned comrades had been transferred to the new prison at Andersonville, Georgia. The text of that letter follows:

Danville, Va., April 10th, 1864

My Dear Father,

Thinking you would like to hear from me after a silence of seven long, long months, I will write a few words. I suppose you have heard when and how I was taken prisoner ere this, and will not give you an account of it at present. I should have written long, long ago, but I kept hoping that we would soon be exchanged, and then perhaps I might get a furlough and go and see you. Yet I will not wait longer, although I may get through as soon as my letter does, for it seems that a general exchange has been agreed upon, yet it seems to me that they work very slow about it. My health is very good and has been most of the time since I have been prisoner. My wound does not trouble me much, only when I take cold. The ball lodged in my right side and has not been extracted. I have received one letter and a small box of things from Eli’s folks and I was very good to get them. I guess I have written about enough for this time, and I will write again if we are not exchanged before a great while. My Love to all and I should be very glad to get a letter from you.
From your son,

Lyman H. Needham

Relatively soon after this letter, yet in April or perhaps in May, Lyman was moved to Andersonville. In late August, he was transferred to the Andersonville prison hospital where he died of scurvy, according to army prisoner-of-war records, on September 1, 1864. According to the family, his death and illness was due, not only to scurvy, but also to starvation and horrible conditions at the prison. Andersonville, or Camp Sumter as it was officially known, was one of the largest of many established prison camps during the American Civil War. It was built early in 1864 after Confederate officials decided to move the large number of Federal prisoners kept in and around Richmond, Virginia, to a place of greater security and a more abundant food supply. During the fourteen months the prison existed, more than 45,000 Union Soldiers were confined there. Of these, almost 13,000 died from disease, poor sanitation, malnutrition, overcrowding, or exposure to the elements. Originally intended to hold about 13,000, the largest number held at any one time was more than 32,000.

On July 9, 1864, Sgt. David Kennedy of the 9th Ohio Cavalry wrote in his diary:

Wuld that I was an artist & had the material to paint this camp & all its horors or the tounge of some eloquent Statesman and had the privleage of expressing my mind to our hon. rulers in Washington, I should gloery to describe this hell on earth where it takes 7 of its ocupiants to make a shadow.

Source: The Edge of American West

Andersonville Prison ceased to exist in May, 1865.

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