JOHN FRANKLIN CHAMPENOIS
March 16, 1841-February 14, 1900
Shubuta, Clarke Co., Mississippi
John Franklin Champenois, as a Confederate soldier, wrote an article about life in a prison camp, called Camp Morton located in Indiana, during the American Civil War, 1863-1865. John served in the 3rd Alabama Cavalry. The following words are solely John's as he wrote them in about 1890, 25 years after the Civil Ward had ended.
"For the Standard
Life in Camp Morton, 1863-1865
Reading from the Century of April, I find an interesting and truthful sketch of life in Camp Morton from the pen of Dr. John A. Wyeth, now of New York, which very forcibly reminds of life at Camp Morton as I saw it. Much has been said and written of the horrors of prison life in Camps Andersonville and Libby. Life in either was no doubt bad, but those of us who sojourned at Camp Morton did not dwell in Paradise, as I will attempt to show.
I was captured October 3rd, 1863, in Sequatchie Valley, by three very clever fellows who treated me kindly. The truth is, I had just done some "capturing" on my own account and was loaded down with plunder, including some liquor, taken from the enemy. We divided the plunder, and as appropriately, disposed of the liquor, before I was turned over to the tender mercies of the Provost General. It is hardly necessary to explain by what route or how I got to Camp Morton. Suffice it to say, like Eli, "I got there."
For a few months, our rations were issued to us and we did our own cooking. Under this state of things, we faired fairly well. Later, cook houses were established, and then it was that we began to suffer. We were made to suffer in retaliation, we were told.
It is said the U.S. Government allowed the daily ration for Northern prisons of pork or bacon, 10 ounces (or fresh beef 14 ounces), flour or soft bread, 16 ounces or 14 ounces of hard bread, or 16 ounces of meal. In addition to that, we were entitled to every 100 rations, beans or peas, 12 1/2 pounds, rice or hominy, 8 pounds, potatoes, 15 pounds, etc. The government may have allowed the rations, but no such quantity per man was ever issued in Camp Morton. The U.S. contractor very likely could tell why the difference. What they did issue, we were too hungry to take time to weigh. That is was fearfully short of our wants, I know. That a good sized, healthy house cat would have eaten a twenty-four hours ration, been hungry and, as we did, howled for more, I also know.
Rats were a positive luxury. Hospital rats, I mean. There were no rats in the barracks, for they, like the prisoners, would have died of starvation. Rats, however, were not a healthy diet, as nearly as all the rat eaters died.
Well do I remember the day that a nice fat, tender, juicy, bench-legged fice followed a wood wagon into the camp. Chinn, of barracks No. 5, by a cunning device, trapped the unwary canine and had him stewed for dinner. What a feast his mess had on that occasion. Unfortunately, I was not a member of Chinn's mess and was not a partaker of the feast. As a particular favor, I was allowed a morsel to taste. To this day, I am grateful to Chinn for that great favor. After the death of this dog, canines were strictly prohibited by orders, it was said, from headquarters, to enter the prison gates; at all events, we saw no more dogs, until we were en route for Dixie.
Every morning about 8 o'clock, would come a Yankee Sergeant accompanied by a Confederate surgeon, book and pencil in hand, stepping down the dark, narrow passage way, on each side of which in shelves from three to seven feet from the ground, lay the prisoners. The patient with head protruding over the bunk would commence to tell of his ills, when the sharp, quick command of the Sergeant would come: "Poke out your tongue." It made no difference whether the patient was in an upper or lower berth. Neither did it make any difference how far the surgeon stood from the patient, the same and so on through the barracks. I spent part of '63, all of '64 and part of '65 in Camp Morton, and that prescription must have cured all that it did not kill. There was no chance from "calomel" one, doses three," while I was a dweller in Camp Morton. What was given sick Rebs in the hospital, I am unable to say, owing to the fact that I paid but one visit and only then when the hospital tents were dispensed with and a wooden pavilion built in their place. Wandering around one evening with a comrade, before the pavilion was finished and before the guard lines were established, we discovered in an empty room a quantity of United States blankets. That night, the pair of us raided the room and "wagged" off with a goodly supply and without detection.
There was a Federal officer connected with the prison whom we called "Bloody Hell", that being the favorite expression of his when kicking or cuffing some half-starved wretch. His name I have forgotten. On clear, cold days, a number of the weak, sick and emaciated would gather in the rear of the cook house where they could enjoy the sunshine and the flavor of food rising from the steaming cookpots. Often have I seen this same "Bloody Hell" steal on his unsuspecting victims with bludgeon in hand, and "whack, whack", over the head and shoulders would be the first notice of his presence. Oh! How the miserable scoundrel enjoyed the cruelty. "Retaliation," it was called. Why, it's bliss to hate the scoundrel twenty-five years after the war.
Only three at a time were permitted at the sinks. I recall that once on a clear night, a prisoner, after giving the usual signal, was shot and killed in cold blood, without warning. No excuse was rendered, only that too many were at the sink. It was currently reported that this man was killed by Baker, who afterward, by way of promotion, was placed on duty inside the prison. This man, Baker, was Cruelty personified. At roll call every morning, he had a playful way of firing down the line with his pistol when he desired the boys to right dress. Another way he had of amusing himself, was to steal from tree to tree on his return from headquarters, after making his report, was to catch some unwary wretch who might be out of line or marking time to get up a circulation in his freezing feet, and, without warning, take a crack at him with his pistol. At night, when the poor, sick, freezing prisoners would disobey orders and leave their bunks to gather around the stove to get a little warmth from the dying embers, this man, Baker, would come to the door and empty his revolver down the warm passage way, with this yell: "Rats to your holes." And the rats made for their holes, and, rat-like, left their holes when the danger was over. It was "be shot or freeze," and the one had more terrors than the other. Baker occasionally winged his man. However, he was too mean to live and the devil called his own, at which no prisoner went in mourning.
Jim Thomas, of Nashville, Tenn., Cahrley Barron of Wheeling, W. Va., and myself had pleasant quarters on the upper or top, tier of the shelves, the stovepipe running so near as to keep us fairly comfortable. Money could not have purchase[d] our position, and no doubt, it was the saving of our lives: for many, many a poor wretch frozen stiff and stark have I seen carried from his bunk to the dead house.
The first escapees made from prison were Chase of Maine, White of Pennsylvania, and Lindsey of Texas by tunnel from the end of barracks no. 5. Next morning, the boys discovered a hole and the escape. What a crowd was going out that night and through that hole! At dusk, the crowd began to gether from all the barracks 5,000 strong, and every one of us going out by way of that hole. No one stopped to consider that our friends, the enemy, knew of the hole. All came prepared for a long march; come with luggage done up in bundles and strapped to their backs. Others with cracker boxes filled with worldy goods; others with messpans and kettles. In fact, we were leaving nothing and all bound for Dixie via the tunnel route.
A big, stout fellow named Aaronheart, from Missouri, volunteered to lead to lead the way and entered the hole. About this time, it dawned on my mind that the Yanks had set a trap for us. We were not over 150 feet from the sentry line, and I knew that it was impossible for them not to know that something was wrong in barracks no. 5. Fearing they would fire into the barracks, I and my comrade, Barron, bolted for our quarters in barrack no. 4, and none too soon. A dozen shots or more rang out on the clear night air. The long roll was beaten and the guards [came] pouring into our camp from all sides. The crowd in barrack 5 was ordered out and placed in line, a number of them selected and carried outside to the black hole for punishment, the remainder killed him. His body was riddled with bullets, as the Yanks took good care to show us by bringing the body inside the prison, where it lay in state for us to gaze on and take "warning".
There are many incidents of the camp life that I could tell you, but for the present, at all events, this is enough.John F. Champenois
John Franklin Champenois was born March 16th, 1841, in Mobile, Mobile County, Alabama. John's parents were Isaac Champenois and Louisa A. Crabtree. Isaac Champenois was brother to my great great grandfather, Simon Peter Champenois and Sarah "Sallie" Pippin.
Children of Peter (Pierre) Isaac Champenois are: Simon, Isaac and Martha Maria Champenois. Peter (Pierre) Isaac Champenois was born on August 1st, 1769, in Beaugency, France. Peter Isaac was married to Drusilla Pipkin sometime in the early 1800's, perhaps in 1817. Peter had previously been married to Mary Bush in 1811 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. ß I will give further information on this branch of the Champenois family in another location on this web site. (Please, be patient.)
This monument is dedicated to John Franklin Champenois in the Hattiesburg, MS, cemetery. Photo was taken by Jerry D. Mason, a resident of Shubuta, MS. Notice the Masonic symbol above the CHAMPENOIS name. John F. Champenois is my First Cousin, 3 times removed.
John F. Champenois' father, Isaac Champenois, is buried in the Shubuta, MS, cemetery. As can be seen, the headstones are falling apart. Isaac's wife, Louisa A. (Crabtree) Champenois, is buried on the left. Isaac is on the right.