Every Dog Has Its Day: The Most Optimistic Prisoner?

John Peterson - Prison RecordJohn Peterson, a forty-four year old farmer from Catawba County, enlisted as a private into Company D of the 28th North Carolina on October 28, 1864. His late entry into the war suggests to me that he might have been conscripted but that is mere speculation. Like many in Lane’s Brigade, to which the 28th belonged, Peterson was captured by the VI Corps during the Breakthrough at Petersburg on April 2, 1865. He was held at Maryland’s Point Lookout prison camp until June 16th. Had he lasted another seven days to Appomattox he could have returned home in much quicker time. Yet a 1890 newspaper editorial by the veteran offers a curious brightly painted reflection on his incarceration:

“I was a private in the 28th N.C. Lane’s brigade, and on Apr. 2nd 1865 I and many others went to Point Lookout. There is a saying that every dog has his day, and I think I had my day at Point Lookout. I never will forget all these war matters, but in thinking over the past I do not regret my being there. I saw and experienced more than history can describe. When I was a little boy I always wanted to see the ocean and I got to see and ride on it. This of itself satisfies my for my being out now I can think over all these past scenes and I am glad I am home sound and well.”

Point Lookout
Point Lookout, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Before talking about his enjoyment of seeing the ocean (or at least the Chesapeake Bay) on his ride from City Point to Point Lookout, Peterson focused his editorial on politics. He commented how he didn’t believe that there would be another Republican in the White House during his generation. “I think our next President will be our ex-President Grover Cleveland,” he declared. “He stood up so manfully for the rights of the people that he well deserves every free man’s vote.” Peterson encouraged his fellow Tar Heels to not “go out of our own State for good timber for President,” preferring North Carolina’s own Zebulon Vance.

“I believe there is a brilliant career in store for me in the near future,” Peterson added. “Who knows but I may get to be treasurer or postmaster yet.” He declared he had “a sufficient claim on my countrymen by reason of my war career.” The North Carolinian’s editorial reads to me a lot like Abe Lincoln’s 1848 speech to the House of Representatives in which the Illinois congressman denigrates his own service in the Black Hawk War. Peterson’s comments about his time in Point Lookout most likely serve as a metaphor to how the Democrats should just weather the storm of the Benjamin Harrison presidency and reestablish control of the White House in the 1892 election.

If you choose to read more literally, as I first did when browsing old N.C. newspapers, it’s quite the rose-colored sketch that takes you by surprise.


Source – “Peterson is With Us.” Newton Enterprise, Newton, NC, November 28, 1890.

8 Responses to Every Dog Has Its Day: The Most Optimistic Prisoner?

    1. Where was he captured? And it should be said–from every other account I’ve read from Confederates held at Point Lookout, their experience was anything but a beach vacation.

      1. Ed – Winchester, September 18(?) 1864. Arrived at PL 9/26/94. Paroled in March of 65 and exchanged at Aiken’s Landing 3/15/65, then transferred to Richmond General Hospital. Pvt. Maurice (or Morris) Coffey, Company E, 51st Va. He’s buried on ancestral land about 4 miles (as the crow flies) from my home. Other records indicate he was wounded twice during the war.

  1. Not a beach vacation by any imagination…more akin to Andersonville. My Gr Gr Grandfather (NC 57th Inf) died at Point Lookout in March 1865 after being captured at Gettysburg. I had two other relatives die there on the Maryland shore at the Camp as well. If the chronic diahrrea did not kill you, the overzealous guards would look for the slightest provocation to shoot you.

Please leave a comment and join the discussion!