Col. McDonald remained in charge of the Post
at Winchester until the evacuation of the place by Gen. Jackson the
following Spring, March 12th, 1862, when he was left without a command.
He accordingly proceeded to Richmond and reported to Gen. Cooper and
while there awaiting an assignment he completed his report concerning
the boundary lines of Virginia and laid it before the Legislature. But
the discussion of the subject was postponed to a more auspicious time.
Col. McDonald, whose whole heart and energies were absolutely absorbed
in the cause of his country, spent much of his leisure at this time in
perfecting models of a plan which he had originated for making more
effective the guns of our stationary batteries along the Southern
rivers. He also brought to the attention of the Chief of Ordnance, an
improvement in small arms, which he had already submitted to the French
Government. It is probable that neither project was of much practical
value, and they are only alluded to here to show how entirely he was
absorbed in the cause of the Confederacy.
He became more and more impaired in health,
and in consideration of that fact he was assigned to duty on
Court-martial in Richmond and after about a year's service in this
capacity he was transferred to the Post at Lexington, Virginia, where
his family were then living. His health, however, did not improve and he
suffered constantly from violent rheumatic attacks, and he became in a
short time very weak and infirm. Nothing disturbed him so much as the
consciousness of his physical infirmities, and he often longed for the
strength of his early manhood. While in command of the post at
Lexington, news came of the approach of the infamous Gen. Hunter and his
horde of vandals. As there was no force to resist the onward march of
the desolating barbarians, preparations were made to evacuate the town.
Loading a two-horse wagon with his private papers and several guns which
were in the house, he took with him his son, Harry, a youth of sixteen
and left the town. Leaving Lexington, as the booming of cannon announced
the approach of the enemy, he proceeded on his journey in the direction
of Lynchburg. What occurred from that time until he was lodged in the
Wheeling prison is best told in the following letter:
Atheneum Prison, Wheeling,
Sept. 6th, 1564.
GENERAL:—If common repute among the
citizens of the Valley of Virginia, has done you no more than justice, I
may comfort myself with the assurance that this communication, if
permitted to reach your hand, will promptly receive the attention of an
educated and brave soldier, an intelligent gentleman and humane man. I
am laboring, General, under painful and depressing difficulties;
weakness of body disabling me from sitting up while I struggle to indite
this for another to copy, with the conviction made stronger, each
succeeding day, that on the morrow I shall he still more disabled and
disordered. Without access to any intelligent friend, who could advise
what should be said and what left unsaid, conscious that my memory is
greatly impaired, my ,judgment muddy and obtuse,—with no power of
arrangement. and no capacity to bring to my aid appropriate, much lass
forcible language,—I feel that my only course is to speak right out what
I know, as well as what I feel to be true, waiving any effort to marshal
or select the most important facts.
Much must now remain untold; my present
strength being inadequate to the labor of writing down even in the
briefest manner, the half which should and shall be recorded, if God
permits the restoration of my health.
I graduated at West Point in the summer
of 1817, with I. D. Graham, Wm. M. Graham, Ethan A. Hitchcock and
thirteen others, forming a class of seventeen. Why state this? Because
it refers to a record, to which any may obtain access, indicates my age,
and announces my- antecedents as those of a soldier and a gentleman. I
refer to any and all of the class, and ask their testimony and judgment
upon my claim to being "a soldier and a gentleman." Why put forth the
claim? Because Gen. Hunter ignored it, and has treated me as though I
were a convicted felon and blackguard.
After graduating at. West Point I
remained in the service upward of two years, doing duty at Mobile,
Mobile Point, and the greater part of the time with Major-General
Hitchcock, now U. S. Commissioner of Exchange. In June, 1861. I received
from the Confederate Government the appointment of Colonel of Cavalry,
in the P. A. C. S. with orders to raise and organize companies of
volunteers for a particular service. My first service in the field was
in Hampshire County, Virginia, and commenced June, 1861.
About the 18th July, I left Hampshire
with my command and did not return till about the last of August. On the
25th or 26th of October, my force of cavalry, becoming dismayed and
panic-stricken by the presence of some ten times their number (of all
arms) without having a man killed or wounded, retreated from Romney,
leaving my entire baggage-train to be captured by the enemy. At the time
of this disaster and for several months previous thereto, I was so
disabled by rheumatism as to be able only with great pain and difficulty
to mount my horse.
Early in November I was relieved from
cavalry service and assigned to post duty and from that time till I was
captured did no service in the field. On the 13th of last June I was in
command at Lexington, Rockbridge County, Virginia. On the morning of
that day I learned that Gen. McCausland did not expect to attempt the
permanent defense of that post against the army under Gen. Hunter, then
advancing against it. Having no troops under my command, and having
already sent the Commissary and Quartermaster's stores away, and being
unwilling to impose upon Gen. McCausland's small force the care of an
invalid, I determined to shift for myself and as best I could escape
I had provided myself with an ambulance,
a pair of horses and driver, and had it loaded with my bedding, wearing
apparel, and public and private papers as well as all the arms I had,
intending to defend myself as long as I was able, against any squads of
stragglers, marauders or scouting parties who might chance to come upon
me. I aimed to keep as far from the line of the march of your army as I
could. About an hour before the fire was set to the bridge opposite
Lexington, I left there in my ambulance. The negro driver who had been
sent by the Quartermaster to drive the ambulance, failing to make his
appearance, my son Harry, a youth just turned sixteen, and who had been
my nurse for nearly the whole of the preceding; twelve months, helping
me to dress and undress, became also my driver.
Using my best judgment to avoid the route
upon which Hunter's force would advance, I went that day to Mr.
Wilson's, residing between the roads, leading, one to the natural
bridge, and the other to Buchanan. Spending the night there I learned
next day that the enemy would probably go by Buchanan, at least with
part of their forces. I selected a place for concealment and defence and
with Mr. Wilson, his servants, wagons, &c., moved to it the next day. It
was about three miles and a half from the road leading to Buchanan, by
which Hunter's force marched to that place. On the day that Hunter
entered Buchanan about 12 o'clock, Lieut. Lewis and private Blake
charged with a war shout upon my camp. They were fired upon and repulsed
but returned about Sun-down in force (as Capt. Martindale and Lieut.
Lewis afterwards informed me) about twenty-two in number, and again
attacked my camp. After fighting them till my gun stock was broken and
my right hand paralysed by a bullet wound, I surrendered myself and son
as prisoners of war.
When I so surrendered, the enemy were
distant from us about forty yards. Lieut. Lewis answered my proposal of
surrender in the affirmative. After receiving our arms and learning that
my son and self constituted my entire force (old Mr. Wilson having been
killed, and the negroes and two other lads in Mr. Wilson's employ having
run off) the men seemed much provoked that I had fought them at all
(some of them having been wounded) .
They took all of my property, private as
well as Confederate, leaving me nothing whatever except the clothes on
my back, one great coat and blanket. All of this I expected and do not
complain of, especially, as after discussing the matter, they came to
the conclusion that I had a right to resist being captured. They all
treated me as brave men treat those who have bravely resisted, as long
as the power of resistance lasted.
I was hauled in my own ambulance with one
of the wounded enemy and delivered to Major. Quinn, of the 1st Regiment
of New York, Lincoln cavalry, whose behavior to us was that of a soldier
and a gentleman. I expected no difficulty in obtaining a parole and
Major Quinn went with me next morning, at my request to Gen. Hunter's
headquarters, to introduce me.
After exacting the homage of making me
wait at his door for some twenty minutes, Gen. Hunter opened the door
and briefly inspected me, without any salutation or recognition of my
presence in any way, and then closed the door and retired. After a few
minutes, Col. Strother (Gen. Hunter's aide, I was informed), opened the
door, looked at me with apparent ferocity and hostility, insulted me by
his manner and questions and closed the door. After the lapse of a few
moments more, Capt. Alexander, a gentleman, came out and informed me
that Gen. Hunter would not admit me to see him and when asked the
reason, he said that Col. Strother had declared that I had treated his
father badly when he (said father) was a prisoner at my camp; which
assertion I here pronounce entirely false, and a most foul slander upon
my character, fabricated by Col. Strother (as I believe and have reason
for so doing) to provide himself with a pretext of excuse to his
Southern kindred and friends, for having ,joined the North rather than
I have been told by one of his former
friends, that Col. Strother had given him such a reason for having
joined the North. It was essentially false, for he pilotted Patterson
before his father had ever been arrested, charges preferred against him
and sent a prisoner to my camp near Winchester, which was in the middle
or latter part of August, 1861.
I take occasion here to most solemnly
declare, in the presence of Almighty God, that I never treated old Col.
Strother with unkindness of any description; that I never felt a
sentiment of the slightest unkindness or ill-will against him; that, so
far from it I have from my boyhood entertained for him the kindest
regard, and the highest respect for the fidelity and truthfulness of his
character. He had been kind to my father, was his fellow-soldier, tended
him on his death-bed and was kind to me as his son. I never forgot it
and was never ungrateful.
The most painful duty I have been called
upon to perform since the war commenced, was that which required me to
hold Col. Strother a prisoner in my camp and have the testimony taken
upon the charges preferred against him.
General Hunter's ambition is not of the
archangel type. Low-reaching and coarse, he is satisfied to achieve
notoriety rather than noble deeds. In his judgment, the quality of
bravery would be indicated by the amount of blood and carnage a soldier
could cause and contemplate unmoved, rather than by the risk he would
voluntarily incur of suffering wounds or death in his own person.
Punishment with him would be felt and measured in proportion to the
number of stripes and the depth of color with which the epidermis might
be marked, rather than the mortification inflicted by an insulting
touch. Thirty-nine lashes on his bare back would give him ,just three
times as much pain (and no more or less) than thirteen laid on with the
With such an ambition, endowments and
tastes in harmonious accord, perfected in action by a cultivated
experience, Gen. Hunter required but the very brief space of time he had
given to weigh me in his judgment and satisfy himself of the amount of
suffering he might inflict by indirection and stop safely short of the
evidence requisite to convict murderous intentions of dealing assassin
blows and injuries.
He declined to see me and consigned me to
the care of his Provost-Marshal-General, one Major Harkins, whose
constant practice in the duties of his office, as required to be
performed by Gen. Hunter, had made this officer an adept in
comprehending the wishes and appetites of his master, as well as in the
selection of measures best suited to attain the object desired by him.
By Major Harkin's order I was placed
under the more immediate charge of a man bearing title of Captain Berry,
whose coarse, unfeeling and insulting behavior made life a burden,
without the aid of the physical tortures he inflicted. He too had his
inferiors: lower in office, but not in wicked characterists and tastes
than himself. To such he turned me over, with orders, given in my
presence and hearing, that I was to be hauled in a baggage-wagon and was
not to be permitted to get into an ambulance or any spring vehicle. My
son being with me to carry them, I was permitted to keep a blanket and
great coat; my ambulance horses, bedding, etc., were left at Buchanan,
and I was started in a baggage-wagon to grace Gen. Hunter's triumphal
advance upon Lynchburg. Sustained by the strength and kind care of my
son. I was enabled to bear, without fainting, the great suffering to
which I was subjected by so rude a mode of conveyance.
On the morning of the day after we passed
Liberty, on the way to Lynchburg, I was informed that my son was to be
sent back with the other prisoners, and that I was still to accompany
the army. But being unable to carry my blanket or great coat, I had to
go without them. As an example of Capt. Berry's treatment of me, I will
here state that on the morning I was parted from my son, Capt. Berry
came to the prisoners' camp and in a loud voice announced that "old man
McDonald was to march with the army." I replied that I was not able to
march. Whereupon he declared that "Gen. Hunter's orders were that I
should march, and by G—d! he intended that they should be obeyed."
I then informed him that I was not able
to march and would not attempt it. To which he replied, "If you don't,
you shall be hauled with a rope," and ordered ropes to be brought. After
some delay and his telling me that "Gen. Hunter had not yet decided
whether he would hang me or not" he inquired if I could not walk half a
mile. I replied "that if sufficient time were allowed me I could." He
then ordered me to move on and at that distance, said I could get into a
wagon—reiterating his order to Sergt. Owen Goodwyn (of Baltimore, I
understand), that I was not to ride in an ambulance or any spring
vehicle and this, he said was Gen. Hunter's order. I tottered on till we
came to the train and was then put into a wagon, the bottom of which was
covered with boxes of nails and parts of boxes of horse-shoes and
horse-shoe nails, with quantities of the same lying loose.
Such was the bed upon which a
field-officer and an old man, upwards of sixty-five. paralysed with
rheumatism of spine, hips and knee-joints, his right hand disabled by a
recent wound, and reduced in health and strength by the three preceding;
years of disease was by Gen. Hunter's orders to lie, while being, hauled
with his ordnance and other baggage. The wagon in which I was carried
was nightly required to stop near Gen. Hunter's headquarters; and
special orders given that I was to receive only the ration which the
private soldier received. In addition to this, that all human sympathy
should be denied me. I was, by his minions and bootlicks, denounced as a
bush-whacker, bridge-burner and the cruel jailer of old Col. Strother.
The field officers, whom I sometimes approached for food all seemed
averse to any intercourse with me, throwing up to me as true the alleged
ill-treatment of old Col. Strother.
Of such character was my treatment
(varied occasionally, by insults, curses and threats from Sergt. Goodwyn)
from the time I was separated from my son until, upon his retreat, Gen.
Hunter reached Charleston. Then the guard handed me over to the
Provost-Marshal of that post—a Capt. Harris of New York I learned—who
being a gentleman, and knowing the responsibility of his position as
well as commiserating my situation, took it upon himself to suffer me,
on my parole and in charge of a sentinel, to go to the house of an old
acquaintance to get my supper and lodge for the night. Gen. Hunter
coming to a knowledge of these facts, sent for Capt. Harris and rebuked
him for his kindness and required him to have me brought back and kept
in the guard-room, where on a board shelf, knocked up for my comfort by
the officer of the guard, I passed the night.
Such were my accommodations while we
remained at Charleston. From my capture until we arrived at that place,
some eighteen days, no means were ever afforded me to even wash my face.
All my clothing had been taken, not even a clean shirt allowed me. My
treatment until I reached Cumberland, continued equally harsh and
insulting. Aboard the steamboat from Charleston to Parkersburg, I was
put on the boiler-deck under Capt. Reynolds, of New York, who at the
risk of displeasing his superior officers, treated me kindly.
At Cumberland orders were given by Hunter
that I was not to be permitted to receive any food or refreshment from
the citizens, or allowed to purchase any; that my fare was to be only
the ration issued to privates in prison. From the military prison at
Cumberland I was ordered to be taken to the County jail, then
hand-cuffed and locked within a cell eight feet by ten, with a guard of
four men to watch over me and see that I did not escape, or receive any
prohibited comforts from outside. The cell in which I was confined was
one next to a felon, who was taken out of his and hung a few days after
I arrived there. From Cumberland, on or about the 14th of July, I was
sent to this prison (under a guard who treated me with kindness en
route) and locked up in a large room with some fifty men of all kinds,
when I arrived; but as many as three hundred have been confined therein
since my arrival.
For one day after my arrival my hand
cuffs were left off, but on the second night the jailer informed me that
he had received from Gen. Hunter a telegram, saying that I should be
hand-cuffed and allowed no more accommodation than a private prisoner. I
was kept in irons and upon prison pare for thirty days, during which
time General Hunter was deprived of the command of this department. A
soldier succeeded him and my fetters were removed; and since the date of
such removal I have been treated as all other prisoners of war are
treated in this prison.
General Crook, the privations and
sufferings to which I have been subjected have made such inroads upon my
health, that I have not been able to sit up and write since the date of
this letter, now some sixteen days. I have been informed by the
newspapers that Col. Crook of the U. S. Army, a prisoner in the
Confederacy, has been taken into special custody to receive parallel
treatment to such as I may receive. As soon as I heard of it I wrote a
letter to President Davis of which the enclosed is a copy.
Now, General, if he has suffered the half
that I have, he and I have suffered far more than falls to the Iot of
one prisoner of war in a thousand, and our respective governments should
not delay our parole or exchange. The stabs which I have received
continue their effect upon my general health, and I can scarcely hope
ever again to see my family, if am kept a prisoner much longer. I fear
that even now, though I may start, I can never reach my home. I enclose
a copy of a certificate of the surgeon of the prison, given me at its
date, since which I have not been able to set out of my bed and dress,
or even to sit up while writing this letter. May I not, General Crook,
ask your aid to have me released either by exchange or upon parole, at
the earliest possible time; and in the meantime that I may be sent a
prisoner to Point Lookout, Baltimore, or Washington, on parole, that I
may recruit health sufficient upon which to pursue my journey home when
exchanged, or if allowed to go home upon parole.
I remain, sir, yours respectfully,
A. W. McDONALD,
Colonel P. A. C. S.
N. B. I enclose the surgeon's
certificate, in the hope that I may receive the liberty of the city on
my parole, and if nothing more, transferred to the post hospital. A. W.
While Col. McDonald was suffering such
incredible torture his family knew nothing of it. They had heard through
his son, Harry, who had escaped from the Federal guards, that Col.
McDonald had experienced some harsh treatment, and they were fearful
lest his health might be still more impaired by being transported so far
over land. But they never dreamed that an innocent, feeble old man with
his rank in the army well-known, would be permitted to be hand-cuffed
like some vile criminal, and cast into a loathsome dungeon. Information
of his cruel treatment was first received through a letter dropped into
the Lexington post-office, without post-mark or signature. Who mailed it
has never been known, although the bearer must know that Col. McDonald's
family would befriend him forever for that act of kindness. The
envelope, which was addressed to his wife, contained the following:
"Cumberland Jail, July
To my wife and children, I wish two
drawings made. First; My conflict (backed by my gallant Harry) with the
22nd New York cavalry, 1st Lincoln regiment, and our capture by them;
and I hereby testify to their bravery as soldiers and their courtesy and
humanity as captors.
"Second: Myself as a prisoner in tattered
and soiled garments, with iron fetters locked on my wrists, and guarded
in a cell seven by ten feet, in my uniform coat, the marks of rank,
except the stars, nearly all worn off. These two drawings on one canvas,
I wish to have multiplied, that every child and grandchild of mine
living at my death may have one, to testify to him or her and his or her
descendants, that the liberty and independence of themselves and their
native land is worth all I have done and antlered and as much more as I
may be called upon to do or suffer.
ANGUS McDONALD, Colonel P. A C. S."
On the other side of the paper was
written the following:
Not to secure but to torture; and furnish
color of evidence that Col. Strother was urged by private wrongs done
his father to join the North in its war upon his native State. On the
9th of July, 1864, Gen. Hunter instigated by Col. Strother, his aid and
relative had a felon's hand-cuffs locked upon the old, enfeebled and
rheumatic wrists of Col. McDonald and incarcerated him in a cell."
Upon receipt of this, his family at once
took all possible means to procure a retaliatory measure from their
government. And Col. Crook, a federal prisoner at Andersonville, was
ordered to be incarcerated and hand-cuffed. This order, however, was
never carried out, though it was spoken of in the papers and no doubt
the impression prevailed at the North that it had been executed. As soon
as Col. McDonald learned of it through the public press, he at once
wrote Mr. Davis urging him to prevent it, "for," he said in his letter
to Mr. Davis, "Col. Crook is a brave soldier and has done nothing to
merit such treatment, though," he added, "it might be just as well to
let the U. S. Government think it is being done."
Upon investigation, however, it was found
that the Confederate jailer of Col. Crook had never obeyed the order, in
consideration of his poor health, though he allowed the impression to go
abroad that he had executed the order. With what trumpet tones does this
solitary instance, regarded side by side with the treatment of the
infirm and suffering Col. McDonald, refute the charge of cruelty and
inhumanity in the Confederate prisons, and proclaims the guilt of the
Through the instrumentality of General
Hitchcock, Commissioner for the exchange of prisoners, Col. McDonald was
finally released from prison and returned to Richmond the 7th of
November, 1864. The shock which his system had received from the torture
inflicted by his captors left him barely strength enough to reach
Richmond. And perhaps the great physical torture with which he was
racked, was small in comparison with the sense of mortification, which
almost broke his proud heart.
A week following his return to Richmond
he was taken seriously ill, and from this attack he never recovered. On
December 1st, 1864, he died at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Thos. C.
Green, Dr. James Bolton, of Richmond, was his attending physician and he
received many loving attentions from both friends and strangers during
the few short weeks intervening between his return and his death.
He was buried in Hollywood Cemetery, the
funeral services being conducted by the Rev. Dr. Minnegerode of St.
Paul's Church. The Masons, of which body he was an honored member, also
assisted in the last rites. It was the blessed privilege of the compiler
of these memoirs to be with her father during his last illness and he
left a request that his sons, who were all at their posts in the army,
should not avenge his wrongs. Long suffering had humbled him, not before
men but God, and he died forgiving honestly and sincerely all his
He told us, his daughters, who were at
that time the only members of his family in Richmond, some very touching
experiences of his imprisonment. One was of a man whom he had befriended
years before, a tailor, who came to see him in prison and observing his
great need of apparel insisted upon taking his measure, and soon sent
him an entire outfit with the receipted bill. Many of the citizens made
efforts to relieve his necessities, but the Sisters of Charity first
succeeded in gaining admittance and did a great deal to alleviate the
condition of his last days in prison. On his departure by "Flag of
Truce" they sent him a basket filled with provisions and delicacies for
his trip, and not being able to make any acknowledgement of it at the
time, he afterwards had his picture taken with the basket beside him.
And it is to those same kind sisters that his family were indebted for a
copy of that picture after the War.
One day, when in the Wheeling jail,
watching the passage of the weary hours, there came by his window some
Confederate prisoners, who were going to obtain their release by taking
the oath. Getting upon a chair, in order to communicate with them,
steadied by his fellow-prisoners, he raised his hands trembling with the
weight of the fetters, to the small window and pointing to the stars on
his collar, said "Look what that government has done to which you are
going to swear allegiance." Most of them, indignant at the sight,
refused to proceed, and the officer of the guard, furious at the
interruption, had the only chair taken from the room, as a punishment
for what he called "the stubborn old traitor."
He was a man whose faults were relieved
by many noble traits of character. He was proud, but it was the pride of
a noble soul which strengthened virtue and raised him above meanness of
any sort. Uncompromising in his political animosity, his bosom was a
stranger to personal malice. An open enemy and a dangerous one, he was
yet always magnanimous to a fallen foe. He loved his friends with all
the enthusiasm of youth, and never permitted the tongue of slander to
sully their good name without striking a friendly blow in their defence.
And he loved his country and "the Cause" next to his God.