Capt. Erwin A. Bowen, Part 2; Libby Prison

Captain Bowen’s great-great-granddaughter shared this manuscript of her ancestor’s service so that it could be posted here.  These soldiers’ personal stories, from both sides of the battle, are what makes our battlefield history so compelling.

In 1858 Erwin Bowen married Anna Beach. He was then a lieutenant in the New York State Militia. On September 25, 1860, a daughter Effie, was born. She would be the first of 4 children. In the following letter, Captain Bowen, writes to his wife about his experiences at the Battle of Cedar Mountain and as a captured prisoner of war following the engagement. Towards the end of the letter, he records the passing of his young daughter’s 2nd birthday, while he was still held captive as a prisoner of war in Richmond. Here is the captain’s story in his own words.

Prisoner at Cedar Mountain

Culpeper, C.H., Va
Aug. 8th, 1862

Dear Wife

This morning I made all my arrangements to have some rest and just prepared a good bed with a “fly net” and a favorite book concluded to pass the afternoon reading and sleeping. About noon we received orders to “fall in” and be ready for a march immediately. In a few moments our Regiment was marching through Culpeper followed by the 46th Pa. 5th Conn. And 10th Maine.1 Our Cavalry had been driven in and we were ordered to their support. Marching some four miles beyond Culpeper we bivouacked for the night.

Aug. 9 –– /62

This morning we arose and making a hasty toilet––and humble breakfast, were ordered from the woods to a ravine in rear of the battery where our Regiment remained nearly all day.

Brig-Gen A. S. Williams

About one P.M. General Williams (pictured) & Staff rode up — and my company was ordered to deploy as skirmishers in a large body of woods on our right.2 After passing through the woods and gaining a position where I could see the movements of the enemy I sent Corp’l Bennett and four men at along the right and front.3 — By order coming through Lt. Col. Brown, I returned with my company and the men commenced getting supper when all the infantry was ordered forward and the artillery commenced work, quite lively on our left.4

Six companies of our Regt. Were ordered to deploy as skirmishers, — and by order of Col. Donnelly I took the Command.5 After entering the woods — I found some skirmishers of the 3rd Wisc and I ordered my men back and marched them to their Reg’t.6

Our Brigade was soon afterwards formed in line of battle in the edge of the woods with a wheat stubble between us and the enemy.

Captain Erwin A. Bowen, Co. D, 28th NY Volunteers.

Having been on duty since yesterday noon without much sleep or rations, our men felt quite fatigued. We learned that there was a probability of our making a charge soon or else receiving one, we hardly knew which. Of course we experienced some peculiar emotions at the approach of the struggle. — It was not fear, and yet I cannot describe it, — only those who have been placed in similar circumstances can fully realize ones feelings. I had seated myself by the foot of a tree and mentally bid farewell to friends, wife and child, and then arose ready to meet what might come. Each and Every one in that line seemed to feel or have a presentiment that we were to have our a severe trial for our Brigade. Yet — there was nothing like cowardice manifested there, not a man flinched from his duty; the order came “Forward.”

Page 5.

And forward we went over the fence into the wheat stubble and then onward. — The 46th Pa were on our right and moved first but were met and checked by a severe volley on their front and right. But my attention was directed towards my own men and I lost sight of the 46 Pa. — The bullets commenced whistling thicker & faster the farther we went, and as we reached a ditch near the enemy they poured[?] a terrible fire into our ranks. After crossing the ditch and fence our men opened the fire and charging bayonet drove the enemy from the woods into the field beyond. Here the fight became “hand to hand” small parties of four or five would meet similar parties of the enemy and have a trial of skill, strength & courage. —We drove the enemy before us, but not being supported in time our flanks were turned and we were exposed to a galling cross-fire and our retreat cut off.

While we were in the woods I noticed a fire of small arms pouring into our right and rear and turning to Lieut-Col. Brown told him I thought the 46 Pa were firing into us. He replied that he would see about it and rode off in that direction. In company with Maj. Cook and others I crossed the road attempting to cut-off the retreat of a party whom we had driven from the woods.7

Soon afterwards, looking to our rear I discovered a regiment of Rebels firing upon our us. — I then became separated from my company in endeavoring to recross the woods and in the center of the wheat stubble was captured.

Our third Brigade had just come up and were firing across the field — leaving us exposed to a severe fire from our friends.8 But we were soon hurried to the woods, —When partly through the woods I succeeded in escaping from the men who had me in charge but could not get beyond the rebel lines. I expected that Gordons Brigade would charge across the field as we had and I would then escape, — but they did not cross the field.

I was soon retaken and marched to the rear completely exhausted with fatigue. I was nearly crazed for water; — Had it not been for the kindness of Serg’t Maj Williams (now Lieut) I should undoubtedly been injured if not killed. Williams remained with and cared for me, when I was unable to take care of myself.9

We were marched some three miles to the rear of the battleground and then halted. —Here all of the prisoners were halted and procuring a cavalry escort they started us along the road towards Orange Court-House. — We started about eleven o’clock P.M. some two hundred prisoners of us.

Page 9.

We were marched all night and until about ten o’clock Sabbath morning when we reached Orange Court House and were there halted and allowed to rest while they were awaiting cars to carry us to Gordonsville. While we were at Orange C. H. the enlisted men were refurnished some hard bread and meat. They informed us that they were preparing some dinner for the Officers. But we left town before we received anything to eat except what the boys gave us from their rations. There was considerable excitement in town apparently to know the state of affairs in the advance. — The news were not (apparently) very favorable. While we were there some of the wounded were brought back, and I saw a man ride in with 5th Conn. colors.10

At length we were marched aboard the cars and were soon in that famous Gordonsville — I had heard considerable about the place — but was very much disappointed when I first saw it. — I had built too much of an estimate from Newspaper reports.

In this town I succeeded in purchasing a damaged chip hat, for which they charged me one dollar.

About dark, we were placed aboard the train and I succeeded in finding a place on the floor large enough to lie sleep on — and — enjoyed considerable rest and sleep. by morning, Just at daylight we reached Richmond and were marched through several streets until we reached Libby Prison.

Libby Prison. According to the “Photographic History of the Civil War” the negative to this war-time photograph of Libby Prison was destroyed in the Richmond fire of 1865. The central figure in the group of three in the forebround is Major Thomas P. Turner, commandant of Libby. Major Turner excited the enmity of a number of his prisoners, and it was expected that he would be tried after the surrender. No charges, however were brought against him and he was released. The whole number of Union prisoners confined in Libby Prison from the outbreak of the war to its close is estimated in round figures at 125,000. The books used in the office containing names, regiment, date of capture, etc., of every Federal officer and private that ever passed its doors, were deposited in Washington. They were found to be carefully and accurately kept by the chief-clerk, E. W. Ross.

After our names, no. of Regiments &c &c had been registered we were searched and then we were conducted to some rooms set apart for the Officers. — After we had been here a short time we sent out and purchased some bread and butter and had a good luncheon or breakfast.

— Soon after this we were taken from the Officers rooms and conducted to another portion of the building and placed in what was termed the black hole where they kept the worst cases of the prison.

This place was very filthy and very much crowded. I at first thought I should go crazy.

Having been in here a short time, about eleven o’clock AM our breakfast was sent up to us, this was the first that had been furnished to the Officers since we were taken prisoners.

We received Bread Meat & Soup. It is an old saying “When you cannot say any good of a person, keep still” — I will “keep-still” about the soup. — The bread and meat was good and plenty of it. Better bread than we had been in the habit of eating. I will not say but we might have been short of provisions some times if we had not purchased other provisions.

It was against the orders to allow Popes Officers to purchase anything of the Sutlers, but we managed to play some Yankee tricks and procure many things that we desired.

Page 13.

At length we were allowed the privilege of purchasing any little articles we choose, by ordering them though a sutler who was appointed to purchase and sell to the prisoners in Libby Prison. We purchased Apples, Peaches, Onions, Tomatoes &c fifty cents to one dollar a dozen, Sugar eighty-five cents Coffee $2.50 Common Bowl one Dollar Plate Do. Knife & fork Do. Spoons 30 ¢ to 50 ¢. Towels one dollar to ten and twelve shillings. Tooth Brush 10 /—, to 14 /— Water Melons 10 /—, to 12 /— Each, &c &c &c. Of course such prices required a good supply of money. At first we were fearful we could not use our “Green backs” and we availed ourselves of the first opportunity for exchanging for confederate scrip. Afterwards we learned that they would pay us thirteen Dollars for ten of ours.

At last an order was issued from the Department prohibiting the selling of the confederate money at such a discount. We reached Richmond and were placed in Libby Prison on the 11th of August. I wrote home on the 12th Inst., and managed to send a few words enough to let my friends know that I was alive and well.

When we first went in there we were informed that it would be impossible for us to keep entirely free from the vermin. In A few days we had the strongest kind of proof that we were “lousy” —It was the absolute duty for each one to have a thorough investigation and with keen eyes or he might be moved by some power mighty-er” than himself.

We had what we called “skirmish drills” when every particle of wearing apparel was subject to the closest scrutiny, in search of what some persons call lice. On the 19th of Aug. I arose quite early and was Standing by the window — looking very intently at my wearing blouse to see what I could find, —when I heard some one speak, —I turned and seeing no one I looked out of the window and perceived (for the first time) that one of the guards was speaking to me, — the noise in the room prevented my hearing what he said —and I leaned out of the window, —then he drew his rifle to his shoulder and aimed at me at the same time cocking his gun. —I sprang back right lively. — And then I saw this guard and another one laughing together to see how he had started me.

— I concluded they would not start me next time, — I would stand and let him aim, as I did not suppose he would dare fire — A few moments after I heard the report of a gun, — and I learned that this same guard had fired at and wounded Lieut Campbell, 8th Inft’y who was in our room.11

I considered myself fortunate in jumping back from the window.

Page 17.

Colonel Dudley Donnelly, 28th N.Y. Vols.

On the 22nd Inst. we saw an account in the Richmond papers copied from northern papers — that Col. Donnelly was dead (pictured)— stating that he died on the 14th Inst. On the 25th I wrote to Wyoming, this being Effa’s birthday.12

On the 27th Inst Lieut Ames and others received letters from home13
29th I wrote home to A—.
31st procured Cot Bed
Sept 3 received letter from A—. Dated 25 ult.
“ 4 wrote answer to Wyoming
“ 11 Wrote another letter home
—At this time we were being treated much better than at first.
Maj. Warner and Hitchcock are to be thanked for many favors.14 Burnsides & McClellan’s officers were all paroled — leaving us.

I was feeling somewhat discouraged when the Adjutant of the post came and called for Capt Bowen. I answered & he told me to put on my Cap and Coat and go to the Office. I had none but borrowed, and for the first time since a prisoner I crossed the threshold and stood in free air. But I knew it was only momentary — for I supposed I was only wanted to explain somehow that might appear against me or at the best to acknowledge the receipt of something that might have been sent from home.

Then imagine my surprise when I entered the Office and met Capt Wertz, and he remarked “Capt allow me to congratulate you Sir.” Then he read & handed me a paper of which the following is a copy.15

Hd Qrts Dp’t Henrico
Sept 11th 1862

Cap’t Erwin A. Bowen
C. S. Mil. Prison


I am instructed by the Gen’l Commanding this Dep’t, to inform you, that in consideration of your kind treatment to our citizens while acting as Provost Marshal of Harrisonburg the Secretary of War has directed that you be treated as a prisoner of war to be exchanged at an early day

W. S. Winder16
A. A. G.

I assure you I returned to my quarters feeling very much better. — At first I hesitated and had some delicacy about accepting any favors, but as this came altogether unasked for and as I could not do my friends any good by remaining I concluded to accept as I might do good at home.

While I was talking with the Officers of the 28th about my good fortune, Capt Wertz entered and called for me — and read another order from Gen’l Winder — stating that Capt Bowen could have the liberty of the City while he remained if he chose. — Of course Capt Bowen accepted this last favor ~   — If there are those who would object to accepting favors — like this, — let them try a few weeks in the black hole of Libby Prison —and from that stand point take a look at the favor. —  They might The Spelling book says, “Circumstances alter cases.”

Page 21.

On the morning of the 12th of Sept, Capt Wertz sent an orderly with me to Gen’l Winders Office. — had an interview with the Gen’l and he informed me that I could go where I choose and report once each day to Capt Wertz at Libby Prison. I had been subject to some unpleasant remarks while passing through the streets with uniform on. —I purchased some citizens clothing and passed in every place as if I were a southerner.

I had a good opportunity to visit the public places. Capitol and grounds — every where meeting with sick and disabled soldiers. Everything reminded me of the war and served to convince me of the desperation & earnestness and oneness of purpose of those engaged in the Rebellion.

As I sat near one of the fountains in the Capitol grounds and looked around at the public buildings, and at the Capitol with the Confederate colors floating where the Stars and Stripes should be, —When I looked around me and saw on every side disabled soldiers & evidences of hard fought battles that were presented, — I felt sad indeed.

It was a terrible reality of what might well seem a dream.

On returning at night to the Prison I learned that Burnsides & McClellan’s Officers were going to leave on the morrow.

— I was paroled and conducted to their Room, where I passed a very good nights rest on the floor.

About eleven o’clock A. M. on the 13th of Sept we started from Richmond in Hacks — @ 5 ¢ each person.

Passing from Richmond had a glimpse of Merrimack No 2. —then by some of the fortifications around the city and in the Swamp — Arrived at Akins Landing and were aboard of the Vandervilt by dark. — There were some eight boats there for several thousand men. —Among the men were the prisoners Captured during Banks’ Retreat and at Cedar Mountain. —

On the 14th we passed down the River having a fine view of Harrison’s Landing, Monitor & other vessels of the blockading squadron & many places of note, reached Fortress Monroe on the morning of the 15th, — Saw Gen’l Dix and several of the Staff, and a look at Fort &c &c.

On the morning of the 16th reached Annapolis on board of the John Brooks, — Went to Camp Parole,17 — Reported, & was ordered to duty, —

Commenced doing duty, and then procured seventy two hours leave from camp, and Started for Washington. — Reached National Hotel 9 P.M., and had a thorough bath and farewell look at my old Libby Prison Clothing.

17th Succeeded in getting my two months Pay, and Fifteen days leave of absence in time to start for Home on the 5 P.M. train.

Need I inform you that I felt as if I was a lucky & a happy man !


1.  This is Brigadier-General Samuel W. Crawford’s 1st Brigade, William’s Division, Banks’ 2nd Army Corps.  All the regiments of this brigade suffered high casualties at the Battle of Cedar Mountain.  The 5th CT lost 237 men, killed, wounded, &  missing;  The 10th Main reported 173 men, killed wounded & missing; The 28th NY listed 213 men, killed wounded & missing; the 46th Pennsylvania lost 244 men, killed, wounded & missing.  Total 1st Brigade casualties:  867 men.

2.  Brigadier-General Alpheus S. Williams, 1st Division commander.  William’s Division suffered 1,212 total casualties at the Battle of Cedar Mountain between his two brigades commanded by Brigadier Generals Samuel W. Crawford and George H. Gordon.

3.  Corporal David A. Bennett, Company D. Mustered in, May 22, ’61, private. Promoted, Corp., March 1, ’62. Killed in action at Antietam, Md., Sept. 17, ’62.

4.   Lt. Col. Edwin F. Brown, Mustered in, May 22, ’61, as Lieutenant-Colonel.  Wounded in action at Cedar Mountain, Va., Aug. 9, ’62. Left arm amputated. Left at Culpeper, Va., Aug. 19, ’62, and captured. Paroled at Aikens Landing, Va., Oct. 6, ’62. Rejoined, Feb. 9, ’63 Promoted, Col. Nov. 1, ’62. Mustered out, June 2, ’63.

5.  Colonel Dudley Donnelly, Mustered in May 22, ’61, Colonel. Commanding 1st Brigade, 1st Division, 5th Corps, from March 20, ’62, to June 15, ’62; also commanded 1st Brigade, 1st Division, 2d Corps, Army of Virginia, July 31, ’62. Wounded in action at Cedar Mountain, Va., Aug. 9, ’62. Died of wounds, at Culpeper, Va., Aug. 15, ’62. Buried at home 3 days later.

6.  3rd Wisconsin Vols.;  William’s Division, Gordon’s  3d  Brigade.  Six companies of this regiment acted as skirmishers on the Union right. Bowen encounters them when he is ordered to deploy Co. D, 28 NY as skirmishers and returns,  because these skirmishers were already in place.  The 6 Companies brought in 267 men; 80 were killed wounded or missing after the battle.

7.  Major Elliott W. Cook, Mustered in Sept. 14, ’61, Major. Promoted from Capt. Co. A. Promoted Lieut.-Col. Nov. 2, ’62. Captured at Cedar Mountain, Va., Aug. 9, ’62. Exchanged, Nov. 11, ’62 Captured at Chancellorsviile, Va., May 2, ’63. Paroled at City Point, Va., May, 14, ’63. Mustered out, June 2, ’63.  Died in California in 1875.

8.  Brig-Gen George Henry Gordon’s Brigade [3d Wisconsin, 27th Indiana, 2nd Massachusetts and Charles Collis’ Company of Zouaves] was pinned down by heavy fire on their front and right flank at the edge of the woods bordering the wheatfield. Prior to their arrival, (they had a long advance with difficult terrain to negotiate) the 6 companies of the 3d WI skirmishers had been driven from the field by this same flanking force, [Ronald’s Stonewall Brigade, 2nd, 4th, 5th, Va, in the brushy field; ––with 33d VA and 27th VA separated in the woods from the rest, on the right of the brigade.] The 6 companies fell back into the woods where they met the rest of their brigade coming forward. The remnant of the 6 companies of the 3d WI joined, and went forward again. 

9.  Sergeant Major/Lieutenant William F. Williams; Transferred from Co. K, March 23, ’62. Captured at Cedar Mountain, Va., Aug. 9, ’62. Paroled at Aikens landing, Va., Sept. 13, ’62. Discharged, Sept. 16, ’62, for promotion to 2d Lieut. Co. K. Resigned, Feb. 1, ’63.

10.  5th Connecticut Colors: “The 5th Connecticut advanced on Crawford’s left. By the time the center of the wheat field was reached, three distinct and tremendous volleys swept through the ranks. Among the first to fall was Color Sergeant Elijah B. Jones, carrying the stars and stripes, he was killed outright. Captain George W. Corliss, of Company C, picked up the flag and bore it forward until being shot in the leg. Corliss would receive a Medal of Honor for his actions. At least three other members of the regiment would carry the flag. Precisely how far this flag was borne by each, and how may, and who bore it and fell with it, cannot be stated, but it was carried on until captured by a member of the 5th Virginia late in the contest.” [O.R. part 2, pp 204-205.]

11.Lieutenant Campbell 8th Infantry shot by guard. — Perhaps Lt. Campbell was one of the Regulars of Gen. C. C. Augur’s Division at Cedar Mountain. The 8th & 12th U.S. Regulars acted as skirmishers at the battle. I cannot find Lt. Campbell’s Record.

12.  Daughter Effa Bowen, born September 25, 1860.  I am assuming “Wyoming” is a person watching over his estate, family, & property while Bowen is in the service.

13.  Lieutenant James D. Ames, Company K, 28th New York; Mustered in, May 23, ’61. 2d Lieut. Promoted, 1st Lieut., June 16. ’62; Captain, January 7, ’63. Detailed on recruiting service, Feb. 1, ’62, to April 1, ’62. Captured at Cedar Mountain, Va. Aug. 9, ’62. Paroled at Aikens Landing, Va., September 24, ’62. Mustered out, June 2, ’63. Died, April 10, 1891.

14.  Majors Warner & Hitchcock: I have been unable to discover the possible identities of both Majors Warner and Hitchcock to whom Capt. Bowen refers in his document. There was a Captain Jackson Warner, Commissary of Libby Prison. Jackson Warner received his commission in 9/28/61. He is still listed a captain in 1863. There was a George Hitchcock, 18th Mississippi, Assistant Quartermaster at Libby Prison, (no rank given and probably not an officer). [Information found searching “Civil War Richmond” website.] This Hitchcock died Dec. 17, 1862 of smallpox. Both men, based on their jobs, would have been able to be of assistance to the prisoners. But Bowen refers to 2 men with the rank of Major. They may be fellow prisoners.

15.  Captain Henry Wirz: The Richmond Dispatch of August 20, 1862 reported: “The C. S. Prison here will be turned over to Major Elliott, of the City Battalion, and be under the immediate command of Captain Henry Wertz [Wirz], Assistant Provost marshal of Manchester.” Wirz was executed after the war for the terrible mis-management of the Andersonville Confederate Prison.

16.  W. S. Winder: Captain W. S. Winder, was the son of General John H. Winder, then commanding the Department of Henrico. p. 70 W. S. Winder was imprisoned for a while after the war with others, but then released. p. 180. Photographic History of the CW in 10 Vols. Vol. VII, p. 70, 1890. A Richmond Dispatch newsclip dated 6/21/62 (p. 3, col. 4) states: Capt. W. S. Winder, Ass’t Adj’t. General, is charged with all correspondence relative to Provost marshal’s Department and the prisons. All communications relating to them will be addressed accordingly. [General Orders No. 1. June 19 1862]. His father John H. Winder, was a career military officer who served with distinction in the Seminole War and the War with Mexico. He became Provost Marshal of Richmond 1862-1864, and Commissary General of Confederate Prisons, 1864-1865. He died of a heart attack in Feb. 1865. [Encyclopedia VA].

17. A last note regarding Parole Camp. Capt. Bowen mentions Parole camp at the end of his memoir. This camp was hastily established by General N. P. Banks in August, 1862 near Fort Ellsworth outside Washington, D.C. At first it served no clear purpose and was used as a holding pen for 3 distinct groups; Paroled Prisoners awaiting re-assignment to their regiments, Convalescing soldiers too well to be in a hospital, but too sick to return to duty, and the 3rd group was for Deserters. As Fall turned to Winter the inmates of these camps suffered greatly from the lack of shelter and mis-management. Many convalescents died. I believe the 3 groups of men were later separated into their own camps. During the winter a new Camp Convalescent was planned and constructed and ready for occupation by February, 1863. It was a great improvement to the previous arrangement.


“A Brief History of the Twenty-eighth New York State Volunteers, by C. W. Boyce. Printed by the Mathews Northup Company, Buffalo, N.Y. 1896 or 97.

Civil War Richmond, several newsclippings from the Richmond Dispatch.

Official Records of the War of the Rebellion.

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