Confederate diary of Alabama native Daniel Hundley describes mind of ripped off, shot and imprisoned soldier

Paul Huggins
August 09, 2013

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – Though Daniel Robinson Alexander Campbell Hundley opposed secession, the Madison County native carved venomous words against Abraham Lincoln and other Yankees throughout much of his Civil War diary.

Hard to blame him considering the pain Northerners inflicted upon him.

They declared him an outlaw and seized his property in Chicago, simply for being a Southerner. They also shot him in the hip at the battle of Port Gibson. And after capturing him at Big Shanty, Ga., in 1864, they let him rot in a prison camp where rats were a dinner delicacy.

The deep despondency Hundley felt from the toll the war had taken on him and his homeland was evident before he ever entered the Johnson Island Prison Camp on Lake Erie.

“The old life is gone, its warm Southern heart had ceased to beat, and one beheld now only its galvanized corpse, making believe that it still breathed and moved and had a continued being, a ghastly spectacle …” is how Hundley described Nashville as his prison trained passed through Tennessee.

The dark description was from a man who loved the South, said Huntsville historian Jacque Reeves, the great, great, great niece of Hundley.

Speaking as a last-minute substitute for Dr. Randy Bishop, who had a family medical emergency, she told the Tennessee Valley Civil War Round Table on Thursday that Hundley believed “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was an unfair and shortsighted depiction of the South and even wrote a book, “Social Relations in Our Southern States” as an answer to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 book.

Still, Hundley hoped for a peaceful settlement to the nation’s colliding attitudes on slavery, but he joined the Confederate army after seeing his extensive Chicago property taken away near the start of the war. In April 1862, he was appointed colonel of the 31st Alabama Infantry Regiment.

Prison life, however, had a powerful influence on changing his views on slavery, Reeves said. She read a passage from Hundley’s war dairy describing his feelings moments after breaking out of Johnson Island on Jan. 2,1865.

“Lord God Omnipotent, if it is this to be free, strike when thou wilt the shackles from the slaves of the South,” Hundley’s diary reads.

Hundley the fugitive limped back toward Dixie by cover of nightfall and slept in barns by day until finally checking into a boarding house and the comfort of a bed, Reeves said. It was the first bed he’d slept in since he went to war, and he enjoyed it so much he stayed an extra night.

“And that was his undoing,” she said.

Eager Union soldiers searching for the escaped officer found him at the boarding house. Initially, they bought his lies for why he was not stationed in Detroit, as his forged orders indicated, or why his private’s uniform had officers’ buttons, Reeves said. But then they discovered his Confederate identification and returned him to Johnson Island. In the process, they confiscated his diary.

Upon his capture, his grim attitude resurfaced as he told the Union troops if they conquered the South, they will only find “a land of graves, of old men and women and children, but the men of the South will no longer be there to grace your triumph.”

The war ended four months later, and Hundley was released from prison three months after Appomattox. He returned home to Madison County, and though he had earned a law degree from Harvard in 1853, he chose to edit the North Alabama Reporter newspaper instead of practicing law, according to the Encyclopedia of Alabama.

Nine years after the war, his dairy was returned him, and Hundley filled in the missing days. He published it 1874 under the title, "Prison Echoes of the Great Rebellion."

Because the book was based on his writings as they happened, not on recollections after the war, Prison Echoes reveals the mind of a southern soldier during the ordeal. Not surprisingly, Reeves said, many of the passages show his contempt for Yankees, and Hundley often referred to Lincoln as a “scoundrel.”

But her ancestor didn’t harbor hatred for the slain president, she said, and he even apologized in the last paragraph of his book.

“The pages of this book, written while a prisoner of war, contain many bitter invectives against Abraham Lincoln," Reeves said while reading from a first edition of Prison Echoes.

“I simply desire to ask the reader to remember that those invectives were penned before Mr. Lincoln had delivered his last inaugural containing those memorable words, ‘with malice toward none and charity for all,’ and before he had as yet laid down his life in defense of his construction of the Constitution of our common country. Believing as I do in the atoning efficacy of blood, from the moment the assassin’s bullet laid low the head of that honored American chief, the writer of these pages has effaced from his bosom every trace of resentment against Abraham Lincoln.”

Hundley, who grew up on a plantation near Mooresville in Limestone County, died in 1899 at the age of 67. He is buried in Huntsville’s Maple Hill Cemetery.

The next Civil War Round Table will be Sept. 12. Historian Howard Cole is scheduled to present "General Rosecrans’ Signal Corps: The War-Winning Secret Weapon Nobody Has Ever Heard Of."

© 2013 Alabama Media Group

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