Wednesday, October 28, 2009

William Tillman Bishop, Human Shield

Within a year's time, from his capture by Union forces in June 1863, William T. Bishop was held in prisons in Illinois, Ohio, Maryland and Delaware. His ordeal was long from over.

From the prison at Fort Delaware, William was transferred to the Steamship Crescent City. On Saturday, August 20, 1864, six hundred Confederate prisoners were ordered to board the steamship. These six hundred men later became known as the "Immortal 600."

William wrote a letter home, dated August 29, 1864, while on board the Crescent City, in which he noted that he was being sent to Morris Island "to be put under the fire of our guns" at Charleston. He wrote that he was still "alive and among the living" but "not well" and that "it is generally believed that we will go on threw (sic) with an exchange." Apparently William still believed that he and the other men would be part of a prisoner exchange. Earlier in August, rumors spread throughout Fort Delaware that 600 men were to be sent home as part of an exchange with Union prisoners. Then, on August 20th, the 600 prisoners were placed on the Crescent City, a side-wheeler bound for Charleston. This seemed to confirm the rumors.

Charleston at the time was held by the Confederacy but had been under bombardment by Federal troops for over a year. The bombardment began during the middle of the night on August 22, 1863 when mortars were fired into the residential and business sections of downtown Charleston, forcing residents to flee the city. The bombardment of Charleston continued for 567 days. The mortar shells were being fired from Morris Island, an island four miles south of the city at the mouth of the Charleston harbor. It was to this island that the 600 Confederate prisoners were taken on September 7, 1864.

Upon arrival at Morris Island, the prisoners were placed in front of the gun battery used by the Federal troops to fire upon Charleston. This meant that the prisoners were caught between opposing cannon fire from both directions. Occasionally some shells would burst overhead and rain down fragments upon them. The constant sounds of artillery whizzing overhead and crashing around them both day and night were unnerving to the prisoners. Adding to the misery was the lack of blankets, forcing the men to sleep directly on the sand and subjecting them to sand fleas and mosquitoes. During the day, the September sun beat down upon them. In retaliation for the poor treatment Union prisoners were receiving in Southern prisons, the rations for the men on Morris Island were meager.

For William T. Bishop, life as a POW continued to worsen. More tomorrow.

1 comment:

Arvel said...

Outstanding bit of research.