Eyewitness 1863: Prisoner reports morale runs high through South
Southern morale appeared high to one captured Union soldier in early 1863. Pittsburgh resident Josiah Copley Jr., a member of the 78th Pennsylvania Infantry, was transported for 2,000 miles through the Confederacy after he became a prisoner at the Battle of Stones River, Tenn., on Dec. 31, 1862.
Most Northerners had "no adequate idea of the zealous spirit with which they support this rebellion," Copley wrote in a story published Feb. 16, 1863. "The female populations of the South particularly excel in a bitter hatred of the North, and they strip their homes of the comforts of life to contribute to the support and efficiency of the soldiers."
He and his older brother, Albert, wounded and captured at the same battle, were the sons of Pittsburgh newspaper editor Josiah Copley. Shortly after Josiah Jr. had been freed in a POW exchange, he wrote a two-part report for The Pittsburgh Gazette on his journey through the South, riding in freight and cattle cars with 800 other prisoners.
For much of the journey he rode outside. "Although raining most of the time, I preferred riding on top, to being crowded in the cars, besides it afforded a better chance of seeing the country," Copley wrote on Feb. 14.
Whenever the train stopped on the journey through the Deep South, security was relaxed. "Here and at most other places we were allowed to go where we pleased, no guard being with us on the route."
What Copley saw made him fear the war would be a long one.
The Union blockade of Southern ports and capture of New Orleans had disrupted trade and caused shortages. In response the Confederates had begun to set up their own factories, "in a rude and primitive manner, but with an energy that compensates," he wrote. The agricultural richness of the South "makes it idle to expect the South to suffer from the lack of means of subsistence."
"Even should we cut off their communications to the region west of the Mississippi, they could still produce enough of everything, except perhaps wool, to supply the army and people."
All that said, the Confederacy still faced a major economic problem. "But there is a deep-seated rottenness in their affairs that causes worse forebodings at Richmond than the greatest disaster that has ever befallen their arms," Copley wrote.
Inflation -- resulting from the South's "baseless credit system" -- was reducing the value of Confederate currency. Southern merchants preferred to be paid in U.S. "greenbacks," valuing them at 160 percent of their face value. Confederate money, on the other hand, was "depreciated at least 75 percent" -- $100 might buy just $25 worth of goods. In a few months Confederate bills "will hardly be worth one-tenth their nominal value," Copley predicted.
The Civil War took a very heavy toll on the Copley family,
Editor Josiah Copley Sr. had begun his career as a newspaperman in Kittanning, and his biography is included in a 1914 history, "Armstrong County, Pa.: Her People Past and Present."
According to that work, the elder Copley lost two sons in the conflict. John was killed in the battle of South Mountain, Md., in September 1862, and Albert died of battle wounds sometime in January 1863. Josiah Jr. rejoined his unit and was captured for the second time at the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863. This time there was no early release. He was held for 17 months at several Confederate prisons, including the most notorious one, near Andersonville, Ga.
First Published March 3, 2013 12:00 am