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A very scarce Union prisoner-of-war adversity envelope made from wallpaper and apparently sent from Liggon's Warehouse Prison in Richmond
Richmond, 1862. Good. The cover measures approximately 3" x 5.5" and is made from wallpaper as at this time it was very difficult for prisoners to obtain envelopes. It is franked with a 3-cent Washington stamp (Scott #65) that is tied to the cover with a segmented cork cancel. The envelope has a double-ring handstamped postmark that reads, "Old Point Comfort VA Jan 16" with a manuscript 1862 in the center ring. There is a manuscript censor's mark "Exm" (for Examined) in the upper left corner and a manuscript "61" annotated on the reverse that was likely written by the censor when he reviewed the contents. The envelope is soiled and edge-worn with a paperclip rust stain on the left edge. It is missing the top flap and split along the right side where the lower corner has been turned-up to show the wallpaper pattern inside. The cover was stored in a larger envelope by Mrs. Knowles with a manuscript annotation that reads, "Envelope made from paper of Libby Prison by Mr H G Knowles 1862.". The "1862" annotation within the January postmark at first appears to be an error as Libby Prison was not established until March of 1862. However, as noted Lieutenant B.B. Vassall in William H. Jeffrey's Richmond Prisons 1861-1862, "it [had] become a common error in speaking of prisoners of war, who were confined in Richmond [before March of 1862] to say that they were in 'Libby Prison' but such was not the case. [They] were confined in the tobacco warehouse of Liggon & Co." Knowles military records don't resolve the confusion for he was a soldier in the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment, and although the regiment was organized in September of 1861, it did not see major action until March of 1862 at the Battle of New Bern. It subsequently fought at Antietam and Fredericksburg later in 1862 and at Drewry's Bluff in 1864. Knowles was captured twice during this time, and he spent a total of nine months as a prisoner of war in two different prisons, Libby and Andersonville. His Andersonville time is well documented; he was captured at the Battle of Drewry's Bluff in May of 1864 and escaped four months later. Unfortunately, there are no recorded details about the five months Knowles spent as a prisoner in Richmond. Although, based upon his regiment's records, it would seem likely that Knowles was not in a Richmond prison in January of 1862 and that the "1862" annotation was probably a mistake, it is impossible that the January 16 postmark was applied in 1863 because no prisoner of war mail was exchanged between September 1862 and June 1863. Also, it highly unlikely for Knowles to have been imprisoned in January of 1864, as the regiment engaged in no battles in the five months between August and December of 1863. So, coming full circle, when considering the "1862" annotation within the postmark, Mrs. Knowles statement that the envelope was made in 1862, and Lieutenant Vassall's discussion about Richmond prisons in 1861-1862, it would appear that Henry Knowles was imprisoned in Richmond at Liggon's Warehouse in late 1861 and early 1862 although it's unclear when or where he was captured. Knowles and his wallpaper prison envelope are worthy candidates for further study. Northbound Union prisoner-of-war mail was collected and transported to Hampton Roads, where it was transferred to Union forces for placement into the regular mail system at Old Point Comfort. Knowles must have been in possession of the U.S. stamp that he used for postage for if he did not have one, his envelope would have been marked with a hand-stamped "3" indicating that 3 cents postage was due upon delivery to the recipient. See Special Mail Routes of the American Civil War by Walske and Trepel for more information about prison locations and mail rates, routes, and time frames. While all prisoner of war mail sent from Richmond is uncommon, early mail is very scarce. Walske and Trepel report that there are only 38 known examples of prisoners mail that were sent from Liggon's and Libby Prisons between September 1861 and May 1862. As of 2017, no prisoner mail from this period is for sale in the philatelic, militaria, or ephemera trade, and there are no records showing any examples have been sold at auction.
      [Bookseller: Read 'Em Again Books, ABAA]
Last Found On: 2017-08-14           Check availability:      IOBABooks    

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