For more posts about Sergeant John L. Hoster's experiences, from Cold Harbor to Andersonville, click here.
On November 29, 1863, Sergeant John L. Hoster took some time away from his duties at Fort Norfolk to write a letter to his sweetheart Josie Cole in Canoga, New York. Hoster had recently read accounts of the awful conditions of life at Libby prison, as related by recently released surgeons. "The thoughts of being taken prisoner are worse than those of death," he concluded. A little over six months later, on June 15th, 1864, his worst fears were realized when he was captured along the banks of the Appomattox River outside of Petersburg, along with 22 other members of the 148th New York. Taken to the Custom House in Petersburg, the men were stripped of their valuables and interrogated. In the process, Hoster and his comrades confirmed Confederate intelligence reports that the entire 18th corps was in front of Petersburg. Then, the men were temporarily confined to a building on a back street in the city. Sergeant Hoster would face the ordeal of his life over the next eight months. Throughout it all, he continued to record daily entries in his diary. We pick up with his entry for June 16, 1864.
Thursday, June 16th
Warm and pleasant. We were allowed to go out one at a time to wash, after which rations of hardtack and bacon were issued to us. About 9 o'clock we were marched to the depot and took the cars en route for Weldon, distant from Petersburg 60 miles. We changed cars at this place and started for Wilmington. We were furnished with passenger cars and plenty of room at that.
Friday, June 17th
Warm and pleasant. We arrived at Wilmington about 11 o'clock. The cars from Weldon had seats running lengthwise. Therefore, we were not as comfortable as in the passenger cars. Left Wilmington a little after noon for Kingsville. We have good passenger cars again.
Saturday, June 18th
Very pleasant. Arrived in Kingsville, S.C. about daylight. While waiting for the cars we were permitted to make coffee. The Lt. in command is a fine gentlemanly sort of a fellow. 60 miles from Petersburg to Weldon, 162 miles from Weldon to Wilmington, from Wilmington to Kingsville 171 miles. Arrived at Branchville about 11 o'clock. Arrived at Augusta, Ga., near sundown. On the road from Branchville to Augusta the women came with biscuit, meat, chicken and butter for the furloughed soldiers. Then after serving them they gave us a small portion. At Augusta we were not fortunate enough to get passenger cars, having to put up with a cattle car.
Sunday, June 19th
Was rather close in the box car last night but notwithstanding, I enjoyed a very good nights sleep. Arrived at Andersonville which is nothing more than a station stop late in the afternoon. After turning us over to a Capt. who seemed to have all to do with the prisoners, we had the satisfaction of being out in an awful rain storm. Quite a number of prisoners arrived from the Western Army. Our squad was soon taken inside the large blockade and assigned to detachment 16 - Mess 2. With difficulty we found room for three of us to pitch our tent. Corpl. Pringle, James A. Hudson and myself. The Sergt. in charge of our detail informed us that we would draw rations the next night and that we must be sure and be present at roll call the next morning at 8 o'clock, at which time a drum would beat. The men are divided into detachments of 270 men each and each detachment into three messes. A Sgt. has charge of each detachment and every mess is under the charge of a Sgt. who issues the rations to his mess.
Monday, June 20th
Warm, rainy in the afternoon. We are quite comfortable in our tents. I took a stroll through camp today and "Oh! horrors-of-horrors", the sight which greeted my eyes! Some men, not a shred of clothing, others with scarcely a thread to cover their nakedness, others with a shirt and a pair of drawers as black as the ace of spades with grease and dirt. Some have no means of shielding themselves from the inclemency of the weather. Some have a sort of tent made of a woolen blanket and a few have shelter tents. A creek runs through the center of the yard at the lower end of which is a large sink. Nothing but a frame work. Some of the men are not able to go to the sink and do their business just outside their tents in small holes and some have been seen to do it in small holes made with the heel inside the tent, while some do it on the surface outside. Hundreds use the banks of the stream, creating an awful stench and rendering the water unfit to wash in. Thus the slovenly made it unhealthy for us all. The yard covers about 11 acres and contains 25,000 men. The scurvy and dysentery prevail to great extent and the mortality per day averages at least 33 deaths. Rumored that 134 died today. The scurvy seems to be worse among the Belle Isle and Libby prisoners. We drew rations of bread and meat this afternoon. The meat ration is small, but the bread will do. Some of the men draw their meat raw and cook it to suit themselves.
Sergeant Hoster's odyssey as a prisoner-of-war was just beginning.
A note on Sources: This post derives primary source material from Collection 345 in the Special Collections of the New York State Historical Association - the Sergeant John L. Hoster Collection, 1862-1865. The letter referenced from Sergeant Hoster to Josie Cole is held as part of Accession #12501 of the Special Collections at the University of Virginia, The Civil War Correspondence of John L. Hoster and Josie Cole.