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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

Excerpts From a Letter at Camp Lunacy; Lt. Frost of the 9th Mich. Cavalry

by Gordon Thorsby


Robert Jennings Frost was 20, and from Albion when he enlisted April 29, 1863 as Sergeant in Co. G of the 9th Michigan Cavalry at Coldwater, MI. He gained promotion to second Lt. In June 1864, and then first Lt officially on 10/26. On the next day, Frost was to lead his company out but would not return with it.


Richland Jail

Columbia, S.C. Dec. 11, 1864


Dear Eddy,


This was the beginning of a letter Robert Jennings Frost, in the 9th Michigan Cavalry to his friend whose last name was “Eddy” and was the name that Frost called. He informed “Eddy” that he had been captured and was being held in South Carolina.


“I was captured Oct.27th about 30 miles from Atlanta on the Augusta R.R. Line…”

The 9th Michigan was tearing up railroad tracks east of Atlanta and destroy any usefulness for the future. For the past three weeks, the 9th Michigan was losing a man almost daily in the area to Wheeler’s Cavalry by capture or wounding and Frost became an officer prize.


“…have been to several military Hotels viz. Macon, Savannah, Charleston, and Columbia Jails."

Frost apparently considered the places he was sent as resembling anything but jails.

"…. This prison being for officers alone.”


Overcrowding, the poorest of food and other conditions resulted in rampant disease and death. The camps he mentioned were as follows:


Macon (Camp Oglethorpe) would have been Frost’s first “hotel.” The large numbers of Federal officers came from Sherman’s invasion and they required new prisons. Macon was reactivated to hold 1200 but Frost would have been there when there were 2300 officers in the camp. As Sherman's army approached the prison, Confederate authorities transferred the prisoners to other places east in Georgia. Frost would not have stayed long at Macon. His next stop was possibly Savannah. As it was determined that Savannah was Sherman/’s endpoint in Georgia, Frost was then sent to Charleston.

sketch artist (Maile?)

Space in the three jails at Charleston accommodated possibly 650 but they quickly became overloaded by almost twice that number. Charleston came under threat from Sherman and the prisoners were sent to Columbia arriving at what he called “Columbia jail” but was actually known as “Camp Sorghum.” The time there was brief and Frost must have tired of the constant moving. These prisons had popped up to handle the large influx of prisoners but were not ready. Poor security (high numbers of escapes) and conditions necessitated the camp to be shut down which became official on Dec, 12th, 1864. The date of Frost’s letter was Dec. 11.

Richland jail was whence Frost’s letter originated. Richland County Jail, SC, was an existing jail used as a prisoner of war camp from 1864 to 1865. Overcrowding forced transfer to the Asylum prison, nicknamed, Camp Lunacy. Then came threats of cavalry raids.


"I have no definite idea as to the length of time I shall stay on this place of abode.”

On 12 Feb 1865, two months since Frost’s letter, Confederate Colonel C H Forno requested for security the transfer of 1,200 Federal officers, prisoners of war, Between 13 & 14 February 1865, the 1,200 prisoners were trained north to Charlotte, NC, then to Wilmington, NC, where the prisoners were turned over to Federal authorities during the first week of March 1865.

Frost’s letter mention a couple of other officers to “Eddy.”

If you see or write to the twelfth, tell Fred that Capt. Dicey, of the 1st Sharpshooters, who is confined sends his best wishes.”

(Twelfth is a possible reference of Co. G that Dicey commanded.)


Capt. Dicey was Elmer C. Dicey of Grand Haven and Captain in Co B, 1st Michigan Sharpshooters. Dicey was captured in arguably the most inhumane battle of the entire war,’ “The Crater.” Frost originally ran into Dicey at Macon where Dicey’s confinement there is documented. Dicey’s confinement at Richland is also documented (link below) that indicates he lived past other previously known documentation. The whereabouts of Elmer Dicey beyond Dec.11th are unknown. Frost’s letter is possibly the last record of Dicey’s life and he died in one of the prisons.


Frost also mentioned “a cousin of Prof. Barnard, Lt 20th [Michigan] Inf. ...is with me.”

William Barnard enlisted in the Fall of 1862 and also became commissioned First Lieutenant in April, 1864. Barnard was captured May 30, 1864 in Virginia. Records indicate Barnard was paroled March 1, 1865 and it is probable that Frost obtained his freedom by then. He had been in at least seven different prisons in almost six months.


After the war, Bob took over his father’s shoe business in 1866, and married on New Year’s Eve, 1868 at Albion College. He found time to be elected mayor of Albion for three years (1886-1888.) A somewhat quiet and mundane life. It was possibly the best kind of life Bob would have wanted after the six month experience of 1864-1865.



Note One: Emiline Dicey, wife of “Fred” died in 1857 so Elmer was a widower at the start of the war and due to her age, there is probability that they none.


Note Two: If anyone is tracing a possible person who served in a “deep south” Confederate prison, check this link out. https://www.sciway3.net/cmp-csa/y/cmp_p_mi.html


A note of appreciation to C. J. Frost for the letter on R.J.’s journey and C.J.'s journey to learn about his ancestor..


Sources:

C.J. Frost, letter from Robert Jennings Frost to Eddy, Dec.11, 1864.

https://www.jstor.org/stable/40581585 VTen Weeks in a Confederate Prison, The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. 70, No. 4 (Winter, 1986), pp. 669-702.


Historical Data Sources, Inc., P.O. Box 25, Duxbury, MA 02337.


https://www.mycivilwar.com/pow/ga-macon.html


http://scvcamp1399.org/CampOglethorpe.php, James T. Woodward, Sons of Confederate




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