A South Berwick Yankee Behind Confederate Lines (Part I) by George Washington Frosst


George Washington Frosst 1827-1904

George Washington Frosst (1827-1904) spent his youth in and around South Berwick, Maine, where his father, Nathaniel Frost, worked as a mechanic in the Portsmouth Manufacturing Company, Tatterson woolen mill, and other textile mills. The family boarded in dwellings on present-day Liberty Street, Vine Street, among other local addresses.

Young George was afflicted by poor health, and as he reached his twenties was at one point given only six months to live. During the 1840s, when consumption (tuberculosis) and smallpox swept the mill community, he lost two brothers, his sister, his uncle and his father. Seeking work away from the wet, cold conditions of cotton and woolen mills, he went to work for Griffin Machine Works in nearby Somersworth (now Rollinsford), New Hampshire, but lost an eye in an accident.

In 1847 he left South Berwick for Lowell, Massachusetts, where he worked as a mill machinist, his father’s trade, till 1850.

    That year at age 23, still seeking better health, Frost headed for Virginia with another Lowell mill worker, John Hancock, and made a new life, serving as machinist at the Virginia Woolen Mill until it burned in 1853, then becoming a partner with Hancock and his brother Thomas in their own machine shop. He married Emma Elizabeth Sumpter of Richmond in 1857.

    During the Civil War, Frosst and the Hancocks were imprisoned for six months in 1862, four of them at Salisbury Prison in North Carolina. After his release and return to Richmond, Frosst apparently concluded that he and Emma and their two children were no longer safe in the Confederate capital. This memoir, written in 1900 at age 73, recounts how he planned and executed the family's escape from Richmond to South Berwick in 1863. They returned to Virginia after the war, and Frosst remained there and in Washington, DC for the rest of his life. -- "Maine Yankee Escapes Confederate South" by J. Dennis Robinson.


    George Washington Frosst, Nathaniel Frost (his father), Capt. Nathaniel (grandfather), Major Charles, Charles, Major Charles 2d, Major Charles, Nicholas: so runs the first eight generations of Frost in this memoirist's genealogy.

    George was the third of six children born to Nathaniel Frost, a Berwick Academy graduate from Eliot, Maine. George's grandfather, Capt. Nathaniel Frost, served under General Washington at Valley Forge during the momentous winter of 1778.

    George Washington Frost was born in Eliot in the old Frost Homestead off Goodwin Road on October 8, 1827. As is noted in his family's autobiographical sketch he was a setup engineer in the cotton and woolen mills in South Berwick, Maine, and Salmon Falls (Rollinsford), New Hampshire. After his move to Virginia in 1850, he was a machinist at the Virginia Woolen Mill of Richmond, and later a manufacturer of tobacco machinery. In 1857 he married Emma Elizabeth Sumpter in Richmond. After the Civil War he was associated with Vulcan Iron Works in that area.

    Frosst changed the spelling of his name to accentuate his line after finding the surname spelled Frosst in old family documents. He wrote numerous historical articles both published and unpublished. In the article “Quamphegan Landing” published in 2001 by the Old Berwick Historical Society, seldom do we find such precise description of a New England town as George Frosst gives of his native village in the first half of the nineteenth century.

    In the time of which he writes, 1834 to 1847, cotton and woolen mills were flourishing and run by water power. Sailing ships were the means of transportation. Local Yankees were employed prior to the later influx of French Canadians to this country. Today, nearby Salmon Falls remains a wonderful architectural example of a mill town that flourished in this period, though the mills are today all closed to weaving and the buildings adapted to other uses.

    Frosst was never to see the radical decline of his village. The historic luster that it held for him was inherited by his son, Charles E. Frosst (1867-1948) of Montreal, Canada, who annually visited the areas his father had so skillfully described.

    George Washington Frosst died in Washington, D. C. on April 23, 1904, and was buried in Glenwood Cemetery. His grandson, Charles E. Frosst, Jr. of Montreal, has made this manuscript available and the information derived from its contents is of great historic value locally. -- Introduction by Joseph W. P. Frost


Part 1

    (On February 22, 1862, Jefferson Davis is inaugurated in Richmond to a six-year term as president of the Confederate States of America.)

    Richmond, Virginia
    Saturday, March 15th 1862 will always be remembered by me as one day in my life when I was dared to acknowledge that I was a citizen of the United States, and recognized its bright, star spangled banner.

    I had that morning called at the Crenshaw Woolen Mills to collect a bill due our concern for repairs that had been made to some of their machinery. On returning to the shop I was told that one of my partners had been ordered to report at once to the Provost Marshall, a Major Godwin, and that an enquiry had been made concerning me, and that I should also report as soon as I returned from my mission.

    Knowing that we for some time had been spotted by some of the most hot-headed "secesh" as union men, I thought it best before making my report to visit my residence and inform my family what they might expect, did I not return home at my usual time.

    As the provost marshall's office was on the cor. of Broad and 9th St. and my residence was on 23rd St., Church Hill, it was nearly 2 o-clk before I reached "Inquisition Hall." Making myself known to the guard who stood at the door, I was taken in hand by one o f the Baltimore plug ugly detectives that infested the city and ushered into the presence Major Godwin, who fancied himself something terrible, but who I found a sorrel top, red-hot secessionist, terrible only to those whom he could intimidate.

    After learning my name he began by quizzing me in regard to my feelings towards the Confederacy, and if I had at any time belonged to any military organization. To his first question, my reply was that I did not recognize no government but that of the United States, a government for which my old Grandfather served in the Army seven years and seven months, and I will not raise a hand or an arm against it, and that I had never belonged to any military organization, in Virginia or out of it.

    He then asked me where I was born and how long had I been living in Va. After learning I was from the New England, he said, if it were in his power he would put every Yankee in the south in the army, and in the front at that, behind bayonets.

    This remark made me red-hot, and I replied that I was but one man, consequently could not be expected to fight the mob which were in power now at the south. This exasperated the major, who said he should compel me to take the oath of allegiance to the South, and if I refused he would put me where the dogs would never think of looking for me. Anywhere, Major, I said, to be away from your presence. So I was sent down to Castle Godwin, with this report to Alexander, that I was too dangerous a man to be at large and I deserved to be shot!

    Sunday, March 16th, 1862, my first Sabbath in Prison.

    This being the Sabbath, the day of all days, it was universally recommended by the prisoners of Room No. Eight that our fellow prisoner, Revd. A. Bosserman, should conduct religious services for our little patriotic band. He read selections from the second of Timothy, and his text was from Chap. 1st verse, 11th: "Whereunto I am appointed a preacher." He did not confine his discourse entirely to the 11th verse, but feelingly led us along through Saint Paul's life while he was a prisoner in bonds. And I must say, no congregation worshiping in Richmond listened more attentively to their pastor than did the occupants of room No. 8 that day to our fellow Prisoner and Pastor.

    When I reached the "Castle" in Lumkins Alley, formerly McDaniel's Negro Jail, I was taken to room No. Eight, where I found many of Richmond's best citizens, some of them my old acquaintances. While they regretted my misfortune in being arrested for my fidelity to the United States and the old Flag, they rejoiced in having me to swell their number, who dared the howling mob in their attempt to crush us, and destroy the fabric reared by our old Grandfathers.

    That evening I was requested to state before our assembly the cause of my arrest, and the conversation that passed between myself and Major Godwin. The result, after giving my statement, was that I had bearded the old red-headed skunk in his den, and was a worthy member of their league.

    During the evening I learned that the Hon. John Minor, Botts, Franklin Stearns, and Valentine Hechler we(re) prisoners in the room above us, with which there were frequent communications through an opening in the floor. Mr. Botts was often requested to decide questions in law, which had been brought up during some of our debates, conversation being held by slips of paper passed thro' the floor.

    Room No. 8
    Names of persons which were in Castle Godwin, Mar. 20th, 1862

    Rev. A. Bosserman -- Phila.
    Burnham Wardwell -- Maine
    William Fay -- Ohio
    Burnham Davis -- N. H.
    Harlan P. Derby -- Mass.
    Thomas A. Case -- New York
    Ebenezer Hallock, Capt. -- New York
    Major Chas. Williams -- Fred.burg Va.
    Henry L. Pelouse -- N. Y.
    John Hancock -- Lowell, Mass.
    Thomas Hancock -- Lowell, Mass.
    H. L. Wigan (Milener) -- Richmond
    Saml. G. Eaton -- Mass.
    Geo. T. Warren -- Eng.
    T. Pearsall (wandering jew) -- N. Y.
    Saml. P. Carusi -- Baltimore, Md.
    Augustus O. Brummel -- Richmond
    David W. Hughes -- New Jersey
    S. Fenton, Jr. -- Memphis, Tenn. & N. Y. City
    Thomas Robinson -- Georgia
    J. B. Kimes -- Penna.
    ---- Smith -- New Hampshire
    George W. Frosst -- Dover, N.H.
    Manville, Jas. Clayton, sometimes called Deleware, as he was from that state. Educated and Mysterious.
    J. E. Leonard -- New York.

    April 9th, 1862, Castle Godwin.    This day Mr. Isaiah Repass, Mayor of Washington, N. Carolina, was brought in as a prisoner. Mr. Respass was one of considerable wealth, having before the war several vessals in the lumber trade to the West Indies. He was a man who loved the "stars and stripes" better than he did his life, and when arrested was found with it entwined around his body, was soon released and returned to his home.

    Henry L. Pelouse, who carried on the only Type Foundry in the South, was arrested and sent to Castle Godwin a few days before myself, March 15th. He was liberated on the day we were sent to Salisbury, he went through the lines to his old home in N. Y. City and remained there until the close of War, when he resumed business in Richmond. Died in Richmond 1897.

    Burnham Wardwell from Maine, who had carried on the Ice Business in Richmond many years, was one of the inmates of No. 8. Wardwell was a Red Hot union man, but always cool as his Ice in all his deliberations. Major Charles Williams of Fredricksburg, Va., was one of our number and a dearer lover of the Old Flag did not exist on the American soil. The same can be said of Benj. F. Humphreys, Capt. Eben'r Hallock, Burnham Davis. As before state, John Minor, Botts, Franklin Stearns, Esqr., Valentine Hechler were prisoners in the room above us No. 8.

    The above were liberated and went to their homes about the time we were sent to Salisbury, N. C. John M. Higgans, a papal delegate ! ,was liberated through influence of the pope of Rome?, and was taken into the Office of Genl. John Winder, who was in command of the city forces. The Romish church always howled when one of her subjects were in trouble until they were liberated, while the "United States Government? suffered her most Loyal citizens who were true to her Flag and Country to lie in Prison! deprived of all that was near and dear to them. While Romish subjects were allowed their liberty which were denied to those whose fathers had fought and died against European influence and dictation. At this time, Hell was smiling" on the church of Rome, and John M. Higgins, an Irish Pagan, was in clover,

    Schoolfield, from Texas, arrested but was soon set at liberty April 12th, 1862. "Confed."

    A few days before my arrival at the "Castle," there was arrested in one of the upper Counties of Va. a man by the name of --- Webster. He and his wife were brought to Richmond to be tried as spies. They occupied a room below us on the first floor with several females accused of disloyalty and giving aid to the U. S. government. Webster was soon sent down to Castle Thunder, a more secure place once occupied by William Greaner as a Tobacco factory, Cary St. bet. 18th and 19th st., where he remained until tried and executed in the jail-yard by the Mob in power. I remember seeing Webster several times during his incarceration in Castle Godwin. He was greatly suffering from rheumatic pains in his limbs at that time and was compelled to use crutches.

    To Salisbury Prison

    Lithograph, "Union Prisoners at Salisbury, N.C." (Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration) Click here to enlarge.

    April 5 is the start of the Peninsular Campaign, during which Union forces under General George McClellan close in on Richmond. They come within several miles, but are finally pushed back in July by General Robert E. Lee.

    On May 14th, 1862, the political prisoners of our room, and others which were suspected of disloyalty to the Mob government, were ordered to be in readiness, at the expence of the so-called southern confederacy, to change our "boarding place" and take an excursion down to Salisbury, N. C.

    As the homes of many of us were in Richmond, we were in a quandary to know why we were so suddenly to be moved down to the Tar-Heel state. Some supposed that the city was to be evacuated. For some days our access to the daily papers had been prohibited by the Watch Dog of our establishment, Wm. A. Alexander, a plug-ugly squirt from Baltimore. Therefore our knowledge of what was going on in the outside world or what was in store for us was very limited.

    However, when morning came we were mustered in front of our Castle and, after some little delay, marched under guard to the Richmond and Petersburg R. Road depot, where we found awaiting us a party which had been taken from the "Libby" and various other places of confinement in the city, ? and accused of similar offences as ourselves.

    We were soon hustled into the cars at the point of the bayonette, and by 10 o'clock A. M. on May 15th we were crossing the bridge on our way to the old North State.

    It would be impossible for me to state our feelings, especially those who had left behind all that were near and dear to them, some perhaps never to meet again on this Earth.

    Heretofore we had thought our situation was extremely unbearable, but now most of us looked upon it as most deplorable. Who was to look after our most dear ones we had left behind among a crazy set of secessionists? No one can describe our feelings as we were nearing Petersburg, where we were delayed a short time, awaiting for an incoming train. After many stoppages on the way we arrived at Weldon about noon, same day, and at Raleigh 5:30 on the 16th, at Salisbury at noon on the 17th. Here we were again formed into line and marched to our quarters inside of a large board enclosure, thickly studded with large oaks. Inside this enclosure were several small buildings, besides a large one which had some years previous been used as a cotton factory. In this old dismantled factory were confined some one thousand to fifteen hundred United States prisoners of war, which had been sent there from the different battlefields.

    Laid over Friday night, May 16th/62 at company's shops bet. Raleigh and Greensboro, N. C.

    Persons who were sent to Salisbury, May 15th, 1862
    Samuel A. Pancoast
    Burnham Wardwell
    Capt. Eben'r Hallock
    Edward Gittins
    Lewis Ballard, Peterstown, W. Va.
    Henry Nieman
    Christopher Belton
    William Fay
    Daniel Patterson
    Benj F. Robinson
    Geo. W. Frosst
    J. B. Kimes
    Benj. F. Humphreys
    John Hancock
    Thomas Hancock
    J. T. Pritchard
    J. E. Leonard
    E. J. Robinson
    Lewis W. Dove
    Major Chas. Williams
    Julius Roth
    John Marston
    Edward Flynn
    John Evans
    Burnham Davis
    David Wagner
    Thomas Sutton
    E. A. Hughes
    James Le Poe
    Mordica Bean
    John White
    Baker White (his son)
    William C. Hughes
    Abraham Van Dorn
    T. M. Molden
    Capt. Geo. W. Haddon -- Va.
    Solon Bell -- Va.
    James Graham -- Canada
    James M. Smith -- Ind.
    James M. Seeds -- Ky.
    Genj. J. Gemeny -- Md.
    Henry Knipping -- Germany
    James F. Grier -- Ohio
    Simon Coben -- Va.
    Nicholas G. Sanderson -- D. C.
    Henry H. Smith -- N. Y. City
    George W. Peacher -- Va.
    Charles Deckler -- Va.
    Abraham Lydecker -- Va.
    A. H. Lee -- D. C.
    Robert M. Wood -- Va.
    Simon Smith -- Va.
    William Fallon -- Md.
    John Kirwin -- Md.
    C. C. Stanton -- N. Y.
    Sam Tatum -- Balto.
    Saml, P. Carusi -- Balto.
    Augustus O. Brummel -- Richmond
    James King
    John Scully
    Price Lewis
    August Bitterill
    James J. Ash
    Lieut. Geo. W. Twells
    Hugh McMahon
    Gabriel Cueto -- Edinburgh, Scotland
    John McCalland
    James Robertson
    Henry Wingo, alias Smith
    Alex Meyers
    Lewis Bache
    C. R. Turner
    Wm. Reynolds
    Chas. Gennell
    Frank Livingston
    J. T. Lovett
    M. Lovett
    Allen Leonard
    L. H. Trook

    Salisbury Prison

    Our quarters were a brick building quite near the old factory and had been used when the factory was in operation as a store and picker room. Here about sixty who had been arrested as Union men were dumped, without whereon to lay their heads except those who had taken precaution to bring along a blanket or two.

    The floor of our room had that morning been deluged with water by the way of the southern method of cleaning it. It was of rough, undressed boards, and was very damp and cheerless. Yet we were compelled at night to use it as our beds, however uncomfortable. Our first decent meal since our departure from Richmond was brought to us about 4 o'clk that day. It was cooked by the Yankee soldiers (God bless them) while preparing their own food. It consisted of boiled beef?, rice, and wheat bread. We had already bought Tea, Coffee and sugar, also vegetables of different kinds such as white and sweet potatoes, onions, etc. from outside parties who seemed anxious to sell when allowed to do so by those in power.

    It was while here in Salisbury that I learned that two of my old schoolmates lived, that I had not seen since 1836. They were then living at Great Falls, N. H., or in fact across the river in Berwick, Me., but afterwards moved to Lowell, Mass. Their names were Lester and William Aldrich, brothers. I never saw them while here.

    Sunday, May 18th 1862
    Our first Sabbath in N. Carolina and may God grant that they may be few. Our party are in much better spirits than could be expected under the circumstances. Had we the liberty or access to the beautiful grounds that surround us, it would assist us to pass away the time more pleasantly as we have no reading matter with us.

    As I have before stated, our rations were cooked and delivered to us by the United States soldiers, which had been detailed by the Confeds for that purpose. This gave us an opportunity to form an acquaintance with some few of the Boys in Blue, which we considered a great priviledge. Among the number of American soldiers who had the priviledge to visit us was a young soldier laddie from one of the Northwestern states, Michigan I think, by the name of Landis who was about seventeen years of age. Among our Boys who was brought from Richmond was a young man formerly of Fredricsburg, Va., which in height and build resembled Landis. At this time there was a report that some two hundred of the U. S. soldiers would be sent away in a few days, in exchange for that number of confederates. As young Landis was to be one of those who were to be exchanged, Prichard made arrangements with Landis for the consideration of a gold watch valued at $125 and other small considerations to exchange places with him a few days before their departure.

    On the morning of May 25th (23), the day before the soldiers were to leave, J. T. Prichard and Landis exchanged clothing and places when Landis came in with our rations, Tip Prichard going with the U. S. soldiers, and Landis remaining with us, always answering to the name of Tip Prichard.

    This affair was not discovered by the Confeds for some time after Prichard was safe within the lines where he would be safe. Landis remained with our party until I was released August 3rd, 1862. Whatever became of him, I never knew.

    Outside of our enclosure was the garrison, where raw recruits from that portion of the state were pressed into service and drilled for the regular army. Soon after our departure from Richmond, Major Godwin was deposed of his office and sent to Salisbury to take command of the garrison, and to take charge of the exchange of prisoners of war.

    Inside of our grounds were four or five small brick buildings of two rooms each, which were used by the operatives as dwellings when the mill was in operation. As our quarters in the picker room was needed for other purposes we divided up and occupied the small buildings. Although we were somewhat crowded, we had access to the grove within the enclosure.

Continued in Part 2