Tens of thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers went AWOL or deserted during the War Between the States. Some found combat wasn’t as glamorous as they had imagined, others wearied of being away from family, while many simply tired of seemingly endless monotony punctuated by the short bursts of terror common to combat.
Henry Martin Lary, a Confederate cavalryman from Texas, apparently did not waver in his conviction, despite the dangers and drudgery of war.
Lary enlisted as a private in Company D of the 19th Texas Cavalry Regiment on June 24, 1862, in Dallas County, Texas. He had earlier served for six months in a different Texas unit, beginning in 1861.
Lary saw action with the 19th Texas on April 26, 1863, at the Battle of Cape Girardeau (Mo.), and on June 9, 1863, at the Battle of Lake Providence (La.), during the Siege of Vicksburg, Miss.
He was captured at Monticello, Ark., on Jan. 15, 1864, and was first transferred to Little Rock, Ark., then to St. Louis’s Gratiot Street Prison. Gratiot was the largest war prison in Missouri, although it was mostly used as a transfer station.
Lary apparently spent several months at Gratiot before being sent in August to the notorious Camp Douglas, in Chicago.
He would spend the winter of 1864-65 at Camp Douglas before being sent south to be exchanged near the war’s end.
On April 11, 1865, he was sent down the Mississippi River to Cairo, Ill. He arrived in New Orleans on April 22 and remained there until early May, when he was exchanged at the “mouth of the Red River, La.” on May 5.
Late in the war, nearly all exchanges were made because soldiers were in failing health, so it’s likely that Lary was suffering from health complications, possibly related to the winter at Camp Douglas, which had one of the highest mortality rates of any Civil War prisoner of war camp, with as many as 6,000 prisoners dying there between 1862 and 1865.
But before Lary was sent north Camp Douglas, Union officials at Gratiot interviewed him and transcribed his responses to a series of set questions.
Although they misidentified him as “Martin H. Lary” – transposing his first and middle names (unlike the Confederates, who misidentified him as “Leary” rather than “Lary”) – it’s apparent that even after nearly three years of service, Lary’s dedication to the Southern cause hadn’t wavered.
After answering such questions as place of capture, battles participated in and commanders served under, Lary was asked “Are you a Southern sympathizer?”
His response was a straightforward, “I am.”
To the question, “Do you sincerely desire to have the Southern people put down in this war, and the authority of the U.S. Government over them restored?” Lary was likewise succinct: “I do not,” he replied.
While it’s impossible 150 years later to know if Lary’s convictions remained as strong throughout the winter he spent at Camp Douglas, he did manage to survive and make his way back to home to Hill County, Texas.
Lary married, and lived until 1910, dying at the age of 67. His wife lived until 1933 and received a pension for her husband’s Confederate service. They are buried side by side in Hillsboro, Texas.
(Top: Confederate POWs at Camp Douglas, Ill.)