A Confederate soldier learns ‘war is hell’
William Joshua “W.J.” Croy was born on Sept. 17, 1843, in Dawson County, Ga., and enlisted in the 38th Georgia Regiment of the Confederate army in Atlanta, Ga., in May 1862. One month later, he found himself in Petersburg General Hospital in Virginia, suffering from rubella, or measles, contracted while in camp.
Croy’s great, great grandson, James Tidwell, who divides his time between Ocean View and Clinton, Md., related this story, which is partly based on Andy Witt’s research.
Shortly after returning to service, Croy took grapeshot from artillery fire to the head during the Battle of Second Manassas in August 1862. He had a long convalescence before being able to rejoin his unit in June 1863.
Croy arrived in time to march northward with the 38th Georgia, which was part of Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon’s brigade, Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early’s division, Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell’s corps of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Lee had decided to bring the war into the North with his Confederate force of some 80,000 men.
The Rebel army was destined to collide with Maj. Gen. George G. Meade’s larger Union Army of the Potomac at a crossroads town in southcentral Pennsylvania. Although the record is unclear, Croy evidently fell wounded once again during the Battle of Gettysburg.
He likely was included in the 17-mile-long wagon train carrying thousands of wounded Rebel soldiers that snaked its way westward through Monterey Gap in South Mountain after Lee’s army lost the battle and retreated from Gettysburg toward the Potomac River at Williamsport, Md.
However, the pursuing Union army arrived at a school in Chambersburg, Pa., being used as a temporary hospital, and captured some of the wounded Rebel soldiers — including Croy.
Now as a prisoner of war, in August 1863, his captors turned Croy over to the Union provost marshal in Harrisburg, Pa. His next stop was Philadelphia, before moving on to a prison for Confederate captives at Fort Delaware, located on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River and reachable by boat a short distance off of Delaware City.
At this time during the Civil War, Fort Delaware had the capacity to hold some 10,000 prisoners. Nonetheless, in July and August 1863, it was overwhelmed with thousands of Rebel soldiers captured during the battles at Gettysburg, Pa., and Vicksburg, Miss. — which had fallen to the Union army on July 3 and July 4, respectively.
At prison camps in both North and South, POWs languished in crowded and unhealthy conditions, leading to a high mortality rate. Over a period of four years, nearly 2,500 prisoners incarcerated at Fort Delaware would not survive the ordeal.
Croy’s stay at Fort Delaware was brief; and, by the fall of 1863, Union officials transferred him to Point Lookout prison camp in Maryland. This was the largest prison for Confederate POWs in the North, and was located at the southern tip of a peninsula formed by the confluence of Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River in St. Mary’s County, Md.
Croy’s fate was to spend the next year and a half at this facility, which at times held as many as 20,000 Rebel POWs. Unlike the wooden barracks at Fort Delaware, however, Point Lookout housed its inmates in tents that provided less protection from the elements.
Also, unlike Fort Delaware, black Union soldiers were a large part of the guard force at Point Lookout. This led to animosity between the guards and the Confederate prisoners.
According to the records, the Union army paroled or exchanged Croy at Camp Lee near Richmond, Va., on Feb. 17, 1865. Despite his multiple wounds, capture and confinement in prisons with unhealthy environments, he managed to survive the war and live to the age of 76.
His tombstone is inscribed: “W.J. Croy Sept. 17, 1843 – Feb. 19, 1920. A loving companion gone never to be forgotten.”
Not surprisingly, Croy experienced epileptic spasms throughout the rest of his life as a result of the head wound he received early in his military service. It was Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman who pronounced that “war is hell,” and tens of thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers, including William Joshua Croy, learned from experience the truth of that statement.
Tom Ryan is the author of the award-winning “Spies, Scouts & Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign,” available at Bethany Beach Books, at Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach and at Cardsmart in Milford. His latest book, “Lee is Trapped, and Must Be Taken: Eleven Fateful Days after Gettysburg, July 4-14, 1863,” is due out in May 2019, and can be pre-ordered on Amazon.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.tomryan-civilwar.com.
By Tom Ryan
Special to the Coastal Point