THE HONORED 600
of Morris Island
The citizens of Craighead County, AR can be proud to know that during the "War between the States" they had a hero. His name was PERU H. BENSON. He was a Lieutenant in the 23rd Ark Infantry. Not many citizens have ever heard of the Honored 600 of Morris Island. The men of the 23rd Ark Infantry were captured at Port Hudson, Louisiana. The enlisted men were released to return home. Most of these men reentered the Confederacy to serve until the end of the war. The officers were sent to prisons all over the North. Most of the 23rd's officers were sent to Fort Delaware then on to Hilton Head, South Carolina. These prisoners were used as a shield by the Yankees. The Yankees thought that the Confederates would not shoot at them if they put their cohorts on an island between the two forts.
At the mouth of the Delaware river where it empties into Delaware Bay, some 48 miles south of Philadelphia, PA,lies Pea Island. Just east of the island is New Jersey and to the west is Delaware City. During settlement of the area during colonial days a Dutch ship loaded with peas was abandoned in the river after running aground. The peas grew, the island grew and eventually the resulting land became large enough for a fort to be built on it during the revolutionary War. A subsequent fort, named Fort Delaware, was still standing during the Civil War. It was converted into a prison for Confederate Soldiers and was used throughout the war.
The above statements are from Danny Honnol, Pres. Craighead Co AR Historical Society
BENSON, P.H., prisoner, Hilton Head, S.C.
Lieutenant in the 23rd Ark Infantry
Of the party removed from the island (Johnson's) with me, numbering about six hundred, we were taken to Point Lookout, Md., for the ostensible purpose of exchange, as there was a great clamor at that time in the North to exchange the the prisoners, and a small batch were sent through on exchange. The other two-thirds, on our arrival at the (City) Point, were placed in the hospital building, and had very comfortable quarters. We were fed at mess Hall on convalescents' rations, though but few of us were or had been sick, however we did very well on the food. We were kept in the building until hostilities between Lee and Grant began, when we were moved out and placed in tents to make room for the wounded.
We remained in tents until warm weather, and were sent to Fort Delaware, and there I remained until abouyt August 20, 1864, when about six hundred of us were taken on a steamer to Morris Island, S,C,, off the bar of Charleston Harbor. After being on the vessel twenty-seven days, we were landed on the island and put in a stockade of about an acre in extent on a direct line between our Fort Moultrie and Fort Anderson, occupied by the Federals, so the shells fired from one at the other passed directly over our heads unless they fell short, and seventeen of them fell short, but none of us were hurt by them. We were kept in this place for forty days. Our rations were prepared by the Yankees, and given in tin cups. We received twice a day one-half pint of mush, well seasoned by worms, and about two ounces of bacon. One of our party, being of an inquiring turn of mind, counted the worms in his half pint of mush. He said he got seventy-two, and seeing that he was losing too much of his grub, quit and ate the balance. I never doubted his figures.
After forty days, we were loaded on two schooners, and towed to Fort Pulaski, GA, and placed in the casements of the fort, and were kept there until a few days after the presidential election of 1864 then were sent to Hilton Head, S.C. I was of this party.
Upon arrival there we were put in two buildings arranged after the manner of a livery stable with stalls on either side of the building, dignified as "Cells". In dating four occupants (Sic). There was a table running the entire length of the building, in the center, with benches on either side. We were told by our captors that the Confederates were starving the prisoners at Andersonville, and that we were to receive the same treatment in retaliation. Our rations were then issued, each man drawing ten days rations at one time. When divided into ten parts it consisted of about ten ounbces of cornmeal, fully one-half of which could crawl, four ounces of flour, three cucumber pickles, and a tablespoon of salt. Those who were able to live on this diet were kept on it forty days. About twenty-five percent were crippled from black scurvy, and after the forty days were out they added to our rations four ounces of pork and four ounces of Irish potatoes, and we lived on this twenty-seven days.
It was then decided to exchange us and we were sent to Charleston. On boarding the vessel we found our Fort Pulaski comrads, who we learned had gone through just what we had. Before leaving Hilton Head news came that Charleston had been captured. We were then ordered to City Point for exchange, and when we arrived at Fortress Monroe it was learned that Richmond was also captured, so we were sent to Ft Delaware, where we remained until the end. I left prison June 15, 1865, got transportation home and in six days was with my family, from whom I had heard nothing for twelve months.
Mr. Benson later moved to Randolph Co, AR. He was living near Pocahontas in 1880 but later moved to Texas and was living in that state at the turn of the century.
Two other members of the 23rd Ark Inf who endured the same treatment were: LT. GEORGE W. CARTER, Co H, Arkadelphia, AR and CPT, GEORGE K CRACRAFT, Co G, Jacksonport, AR. All three survived the ordeal.
Historical Background, Andersonville Civil War Prison, Southeast Archaeological Center (SEAC)
Regimental Roster 103rd Pennsylvania Volunteers
Welcome to the Fort Delaware Society
Back to the Edward G. Gerdes Civil War Page