“The prisons at this post are in a very bad condition, dirty, filled with vermin, little or no ventilation and there is an insufficiency of fireplaces …. It is a matter of surprise that the prisoners can exist in the close and crowded rooms, the gas from the coal rendering the air fetid and impure. [A single pot-bellied stove was installed on each floor of the building.] The prisoners have almost no clothing, no blankets, and a very small supply of fuel …. The mortality…about five per day, is caused, no doubt, by the insufficiency of food…and for the reasons…stated above. This state of things is truly horrible….”
Lieutenant Colonel A. S. Cunningham, C. S. A.—Staff Officer
During the fifteen months, between December 1863 and February 1865, that Danville housed Federal prisoners, brutally cold weather and sweltering heat exacerbated the suffering of the men. “Like starving dogs” the Northern men fought for pitiful food dumped on the dirt- and excrement-encrusted floors. They whittled down wooden warehouse rafters to the breaking point to obtain slivers of wood which they boiled to make “coffee.” They attempted to stomach “rat dung in the rice, pea bugs in the peas and worms in the cabbage soup.” They fought a smallpox epidemic, the scourge of scurvy, and the disgusting battle of diarrhea, worsened by the humiliation of restricted latrine privileges.
During the last year of the war, 3000 Union prisoners were marched the 70 miles from Lynchburg to Danville. One large procession of these prisoners was halted for the night in a broad field across the road from the Carter mansion known as Oakland (now the Grisales home on U. S. 29 just south of Tightsqueeze.) Widow Lucy Neale Carter took pity on the famished Northerners and directed her slaves to work far into the night, baking cornbread in an open fireplace in the large brick kitchen to the rear of the house. Other local people also brought things to eat, despite the scarcity of food among the Southern populace. Dr. Rawley Martin drove out from Chatham, bringing provisions, saying that, having been a prisoner of war, he knew what it was to be hungry.