EXTREMELY RATE Civil War Union prisoner of war cavalryman’s diary kept by Corporal William Dolphin, a member of Company F, Harris Light Cavalry, 2nd New York Cavalry. Dolphin enlisted in 1861 and was captured September 22, 1863 at the battle of Whites Ford/Liberty Mills, Virginia, during an advance from the Rappahannock to the Rapidan Rivers. He was initially imprisoned at Libby Prison in Richmond and then transferred to Belle Isle Prison, also at Richmond. He remained there from September 25, 1863 until March 21, 1864, when he was paroled with 60 men and taken to City Point, Virginia. He was finally mustered out of service on September 10, 1864 at Alexandria, VA.
Dolphin actually used an earlier 1857 diary (approximately 3-inches wide by 6-3/4-inches high) for his entries beginning in August, 1863. He began these entries in the August, 1857 section of the diary. He provides descriptions of guard duty, marches, weather, letters received, washing clothes and preparing for a fight. (“Expect to go to King George tomorrow for a fight…”) His entry for September 22 reads—“Revilie at day light. March for Orange CH get in a fight at two oclock a D_D (Damd) hot place. I am taken prisoner by the rebs. Are marched to Orange CH double quick.”
After capture and imprisonment at Belle Isle, Dolphin began a daily account of prison conditions faced by the Union soldiers. The entry for Sunday, November 29th, 1863 reads—“to day has been an eventful day for us Belle isle veterans. We stole 2 barrels of Pork & got whaled like Hell. Some of us. Chuck lost his Blanket. O the Reg Sergeant. Eternal infamy upon his name, how he did whack our fellows. Gallant charge upon a Pork Barrel. What a shame wont feed us our own Pork. We got about 16 pounds. Luck devils. Cup Gruel for supper.”
The diary, written in pencil, is in good, used condition and provides an important insight into daily life at this notorious Virginia prison camp. Accompanied by Dolphin’s service record as found at the National Archives.
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