Captain Fiske: Dead or Alive

When we last visited Captain Samuel Fiske (Co. G, 14th Connecticut), he had just been captured by Rebel soldiers the morning of May 3rd at Chancellorsville. Along with many other Union officers, he was forced to march under guard about ten miles to Spotsylvania Courthouse, then on to railroad depot at Guinea Station for transport to Richmond.

The Springfield, MA Republican newspaper reported in its May 16th issue that Capt. Fiske “better known to readers of The Republican as the genial correspondent Dunn Browne, was shot from his horse in the Sunday battle at Chancellorsville, and his body has not been recovered.” The paper’s obituary was a glowing tribute to Fiske. Just imagine the deep sorrow his wife, Lizzie, must have experienced when she read of her husband’s death.

Fiske was held at the famous Libby Prison in Richmond. It would be a short period of confinement, only about two weeks. Upon his arrival at Libby Prison, Fiske and the others were searched carefully and robbed of anything of the slightest value: sugar, canteens, blankets, even paper for writing letters, so that Fiske had to send out and buy more paper.

Fiske observed his captors and the activities around the prison closely. He wrote several letters to The Republican, which were published after his parole on May 22, in which he plainly expressed his belief that the rebellion could not last much longer. “Their artillery horses are poor, starved frames of beasts, tied onto their carriages and caissons with odds and ends of rope and strips of rawhide…. The men are ill-dressed, ill-equipped and ill-provided, a set of ragamuffins that a man is ashamed to be seen among, even when he is a prisoner, and can’t help it.” And after noting how little commerce was actually taking place in the enemy’s capital, Fiske wrote, “One cannot be within their lines for ever so short a time, even in such circumstances as ours, without an irresistible feeling that the secession bubble is on the point of bursting.” That victory had not yet been achieved was only the result of “our blunders,” because as Fiske put it, “our enemies are almost exhausted.”

In its next weekly issue on May 23rd, The Republican proclaimed that Captain Fiske was “alive and well, not a hair of his head harmed. Good for Dunn Browne!” Of course, Lizzie was greatly relieved to have her husband back from the dead, but imagine how odd and sobering it must have been for Fiske to read his own obituary in the paper.


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