In going through our collection of personal letters on Wednesday afternoon, I came across an interesting letter from Adam Wonsitler of Skippack, Pa.
It is datelined “Camp Parole.” This was a camp in Annapolis, Maryland, where the Union Army kept their own soldiers who had be captured by the Confederate Army and paroled. A little background might be necessary here on what happened to prisoners of war during the Civil War. The men were often exchanged in equal numbers. This saved both armies the trouble of maintaining and guarding prisoner of war camps. The exchanged prisoners were allowed to return to their units. When one side had more prisoners than the other, the extras were paroled. They were not permitted to rejoin the fighting until they had been formally exchanged. In the Confederacy, prisoners were sent home and trusted not to return to their regiment. In the North, they went to Camp Parole.
Adam’s letter is to his brother Jonathan who is back home in Skippack. He says only that he was captured at Chancellorsville on May 3rd, and held at Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia. Luckily for us, another man in his company (Company K of the 148th Pennsylvania Volunteers), was also captured at Chancellorsville, and he wrote a description of his experience for the regimental history.
One of my company, a man by the name of Melcher Wasser, looked back and discovered a rebel officer behind a tree and Wasser hollered, “Shoot him; he’s a rebel,” but we didn’t get time to shoot, for they came down upon us like thousands of demons, called us all kinds of names, and if any were slow in dropping their things they got plenty of help from the rebels.
James F. McNoldy, “The Prisoner’s Story,” The Story of Our Regiment, a History of the 148th Pennsylvania Volunteers (1904).
McNoldy also went to Libby Prison, or “Hotel Libby” as he calls it. Wonsitler described his time in the prison very briefly, “lived on very small rations, one quarter of a loave [sic] of Bread, and those loaves are much smaller as yours at home.”
As for Camp Parole, he writes, “I am tired of this place. I would rather go to our Regiment, But think the war will come to an end before long. The rebels have lost Vicksburg, Porthudson [sic] and other places. And so I think that awful rebeldom will have played out before long.”
The war of course, was not almost over when Adam wrote this letter in August of 1863. He probably was never exchanged because in 1863 prisoner exchanges stopped when the Confederacy refused to exchange black Union soldiers. Adam did however return to his regiment. He was killed on May 10, 1864, at the Po River, part of the larger Battle of Spotsylvania, Virginia. Both the regimental history and Bates’ History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers spell his name differently than he does in the letter.
His name is also on the Civil War monument in Public Square in Norristown. His place of burial is not recorded.