By Griffin Frost
Originally published 1867 in Quincy, Illinois.
“...Believing the people of the South to be engaged in a just cause...I am with them. Their principles are mine; I endorse their course, and engage my life and sacred honor to sustain their action.”
With these words, Griffin Frost begins the narrative of his experiences in the Civil War. One of the earliest of Confederate prison memoirs, Camp and Prison Journal was written in response to reports of atrocities committed against Northern prisoners of war in Andersonville, Libby and Belle Isle prisons. The author joined the Missouri State Guard in August 1861 and fought in the Battles of Athens, Lexington, Pea Ridge, and the Defense of Corinth. He was captured while recruiting in Arkansas in November 1862 and sent to Gratiot Street Prison (formerly McDowell’s Medical College) in St. Louis. Paroled and exchanged the following spring he returned to Arkansas where he fought in the Battle of Helena and continued his recruiting efforts. He was captured again in October 1863, while crossing the Missouri River. Frost spent the rest of the war in Gratiot and Alton Prisons, where he kept a diary, smuggling out completed portions whenever possible to the safekeeping of his wife in Palmyra, Missouri. Camp and Prison Journal, based on this diary, was published in 1867. Appended to Frost’s journal are accounts by others of prison life in Camp Morton, Indiana, and Camp Douglas, Illinois, plus miscellaneous reports of civilian suffering in northeast Missouri.
It should be said that Frost’s journal falls short of its stated goal of placing Gratiot and Alton on the same atrocity level with Andersonville, Libby and Belle Isle. Different circumstances made Captain Frost’s prison stay comparatively quite agreeable. We are the richer for it, however. Instead of the usual bitter tirade filled with deprivation, suffering and death so typical of Northern prison memoirs, we find a thoroughly entertaining book, laced with good humor and cutting wit. Frost’s account of his service with the Missouri State Guard is a welcome addition to a rather underrepresented area of writing on the Civil War in the Trans-Mississippi, and his descriptions of the backwoods folk of Arkansas are priceless. The bulk of Frost’s book reveals day-to-day life in two Northern prisons essentially unknown to Civil War literature. Of particular interest is the wide variety of people he encounters on the march and in prison: soldiers and civilians, the rich and the poor, cowards and heroes, gentlemen and ladies (and some who fall in between, such as “Feminine Joe” Elliot and the masculine Molly Hays).
Camp and Prison Journal was published by the Quincy (IL) Herald, while Frost was working there as a typesetter. Three years later, in 1870, the Herald’s offices were destroyed in a fire. Of the 700 copies of the book printed, no more than 50 survived the fire. This makes Frost’s Journal one of the scarcest memoirs of Confederate service ever published.
354 pages, 5 ½ x 8 ½ inches, new introduction and index, paperback. ISBN 1-929919-09-3. $20.00.