Thursday, January 9, 2020

Lt. Freeman Bowley's Capture at the Crater, Part II

Back on December 22, I shared the capture story of Freeman S. Bowley, who at 18 years old served as a lieutenant in the 30th United States Colored Infantry.

Made a prisoner of war at the Battle of the Crater, and after making his way behind enemy lines, Bowley and the other officers, non-commissioned offers, and enlisted men were purposely marched through the streets of Petersburg and subjected the white residents' ridicule.

However, before leaving the battlefield, Bowley remembered that behind the Confederate lines, "The guards were now separating the prisoners, putting the officers in a group by themselves. Our names and regiments were about to be taken. Should we of the colored troops deny our regiments and give the name of a white regiment? I thought of the black man who had rallied with me in the Crater, and who had died to the last man. Then I told my comrades that we were United States officers, and I believed that our Government would protect us . . . and that I, for one, should face the music, and if I died, I should die without denying the brave fellows we had left behind in that trap of death."

Bowley's first documented encounter with a Petersburg citizen was with a woman selling huckleberry dumplings behind the lines to both Union and Confederate soldiers. Asking $4.00 for each, Bowley only had $7.00 and told her such. She snatched it away and said, "Yo' Yanks is a miserable lyin' set of thieves, come down yere to steal we'uns niggers. If I was a man I'd get a gun and shoot ye dead; I'd get a sword and chop yer to pieces!"

Bowley explained that "A detail of guards came and took away all the negro prisoners who were able to work. The task of burying the dead was assigned to them. All the negroes had been stripped of everything by shirt and drawers. Blouse, cap, trousers, shoes and stockings had all been taken. We who were prisoners were soon moved to another position in a hollow. Near us was a battery of artillery, the pieces trained upon us."

"Our captors proposed to make a grand spectacle of us for the benefit of the Petersburg citizens! I was in the third file of officers, and as the head of the column reached the streets of Petersburg we were assailed by a volley of abuse from men, women and children which exceeded anything of the the kind that I ever heard. The women were particularly bitter. 'Why didn't you kill all of the Yankee wretches?' they asked of our guards a dozen times along the route."

The captives were held on small islands in the Appomattox River. Bowley remembered "No wonder the citizens had a poor opinion of the Yankees! We were indeed a hard-looking crowd. There was almost every nationality among the whites, and the negroes and Indians added variety of color. All of us were covered with red dust, our faces and hands were blackened by powder, our eyes were bloodshot, and many of us were bloody from wounds or the blood of comrades. Every union officer who had worn a hat had been robbed of it, and wore instead an old, dirty, greasy rebel slouch, with the cotton tassels hanging down behind. We gladly availed ourselves of the opportunity to get a good wash from the banks of the river. Bathing was prohibited. Crowds of people came to see us. We were hungry, and clamored for rations, and were told that the rations would come 'after a little.'"

In a Part III post, I'll share Bowley's travels to the prisoner of war camp he would call home for over half a year.

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