A Prisoner's Story Revisited

Lt William A. Smith

Company J 50th Virginia Regiment

John L. Kimbrough MD

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In the January-February 1997 issue of the Confederate Philatelist, I outlined the story of Lt. William A. Smith, Company J, 50th Virginia Regiment through the new find of a 15 cover POW correspondence between Lt. Smith and his wife Electa in Hillsville, Va. To briefly summarize, Lt Smith was captured at Spotsylvania Court House on May 12, 1864. He was first taken to Point Lookout, Md prison and then transferred to Fort Delaware on June 23, 1864. He survived his prison ordeal and was released on June 16, 1865. The extant POW correspondence previously reported covered a period of time from May 1864 through March 1865. Since the initial 15 cover correspondence was reported, 4 additional covers from the same correspondence have now come to light and are now reported. This brings the known Smith Correspondence to a total of 19 covers (18 POW covers plus one earlier cover). It would be helpful to re-read the first article as then it will become quite apparent as to how these newly discovered 4 covers fit into the entire story of Lt. Smith's months as a POW.

Figure 1 -- North-to-South POW Cover with Federal Postage (USA 3c) and Confederate Postage (CSA 5c Typograph Pair Local print) with "Prisoner's Letter Examined" Handstamp from Fort Delaware to Hillsville, Va.

The first cover (Figure 1) in this new POW group of 4 is from Lt. Smith to his wife and is postmarked at Fort Delaware July 30 (1864). The cover bears both Federal and Confederate postage with a pair of the CSA 5c Richmond prints and the standard USA 3c stamp. The cover passed through Richmond on August 17 (1864) and received the Richmond postmark at that time. This cover also bears the "Prisoner's Letter Examined" handstamp in use for only about 7 months in mid-1864.

Figure 2 -- South-to-North POW Cover from Hillsville, Va to Point Lookout with both USA and CSA (10c Archer & Daly Type I) postage. Forwarded to Fort Delaware with added "Due 3" to pay the forwarding fee.

The second cover (Figure 2) is from Mrs. Smith to her husband dated at Hillsville, Va August 7 (1864) again with both Confederate and Federal postage. What is extremely interesting about this cover is that Mrs. Smith obviously had not received any letters from her husband informing her that he had been transferred to another prison as this letter is addressed to Point Lookout (as was one earlier cover in the original group). The cover was forwarded to Fort Delaware and was received on August 27, 1864. This cover was assessed another 3c in Federal postage for the forwarding fee with the addition of a "Due 3" mark which also ties the Confederate stamp. POW Covers forwarded from one prison to another are most uncommon with only 19 previously recorded (this cover makes 20) including the other forwarded cover in this correspondence. But the addition of a "Due 3" mark on a prisoner's forwarded cover is most unusual as the prior forwarded cover from Mrs. Smith to her husband was not assessed the added postage. In discussing this situation with Galen Harrison, it woud appear that the additional 3c assessment for forwarding was technically correct but that by informal convention the fee had not normally been assessed for prisoner's mail. It appears as though for whatever reason an exception was made in this case, and the additional fee was assessed.

Figure 3 -- North-to-South POW Cover from Fort Delaware to Hillsville, Va with both USA and CSA Postage (10c Archer & Daly Type I) and the "Prisoner's Letter Examined" Handstamp.

The third cover (Figure 3) is again from Lt. Smith to his wife dated at Fort Delaware August 31 (1864) with both Federal and Confederate postage stamps. The cover transitted Richmond on September 15 (1864) where the Confederate Archer & Daly Type I stamp was cancelled. The cover bears the same "Prisoner's Letter Examined" handstamp as is seen on the cover in Figure 1.

Figure 4 -- North-to-South POW Cover Fort Delaware to Hillsville, Va with USA Postage and a Richmond Due 10 mark from late March 1865. No examiner's markings of any kind.

The final cover in the group (Figure 4) now becomes the latest cover in the entire correspondence as it is dated March 17 (1865). Cover did not bear Confederate postage. Therefore when the cover went through Richmond on March 29 (1865), the Richmond "Due 10" mark was added so that the Confederate postage was to be collected from the addressee on receipt. This POW cover also bears no examiner's marks of any kind thus strengthening the premise that in the closing months and weeks of the war a serious effort to examine prisoner's mail was not made at the Fort Delaware prison.

Thus with the recent discovery of these 4 covers, we can shed some further light on POW mail particularly with respect to the forwarding of prisoner's mail from one prison to another and the use of the "Due 3" mark in such cases. I would appreciate being informed if any further covers from this correspondence become known.

John L. Kimbrough MD

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john@csastamps.com