A Prisoner Without Cause: The Civil War Diary of Isaac Tucker

A forty year old doctor from Baraboo, Wisconsin, Isaac Tucker served as a fifer with Company H, 6th Wisconsin Infantry and was held prisoner for two months during the Civil War.  His jailors, however, were Union officers at Fairfax Hospital in Virginia rather than Confederate soldiers.  Why was Tucker imprisoned by federal troops?  Did he commit a crime, or did he try to expose one?  Decide for yourself by reading the diary entries Tucker wrote during his imprisonment, posted 150 years later to the date. 

Beginning on April 1 and continuing through August 2012, follow the Tucker saga here on the WVM website, and then interact by asking questions or putting forth your theories on the WVM facebook page.  Not a fan yet?  Like us today!


Cast of Characters

Isaac Tucker mentioned many people throughout his diary. This page lists and briefly describes some of the recurring characters in his story.

Prelude (June 10, 1861 - March 31, 1862)

Read a brief summary of Tucker's diary entries leading up to April 1, 1862

The Journey Begins (April 1-4, 1862)

While Tucker wrote about illness on and off for the past ten months, the sickness he mentioned at the beginning of April 1862 was the one that sent him to a Union hospital and, ultimately, to prison.

Arrival at Fairfax (April 5, 1862)

When he proved too ill to continue with his regiment, Tucker accompanied fifty other Iron Brigade men to a Union hospital at Fairfax Seminary.

Charge of the Premises (April 6, 1862)

Medical staff at Fairfax Seminary recognized that Tucker, a doctor by profession, could be of special use and so put him in charge of a small group of patients.

Many Patients (April 7, 1862)

Tucker continued his duties treating patients at Fairfax Seminary and prepared to move into separate quarters.

The Boys Feel Better (April 8, 1862)

Tucker wrote about improvement in the condition of his fellow patients.

News of a Bloody Battle (April 9, 1862)

As Tucker continued to treat his patients, he wrote about hearing news of a "bloody battle" out west.

I Think I Can Endure It (April 10, 1862)

Tucker wrote that he felt a little overwhelmed by the responsibilities given to him at Fairfax Seminary.

A Trip Into Town (April 11, 1862)

Tucker described a trip into nearby Alexandria, Virginia to draw rations for the men under his charge.

Troop Movements (April 12, 1862)

As the health of his men improved, Tucker noted the movement of some well known Union troops around Fairfax Seminary.

Returning To Their Regiments (April 13-15, 1862)

As Tucker noted the number of men under his care who were healthy enough to return to their regiments, he also recorded his first, vague complaint about the way Fairfax Seminary was run.

First Rate Visit (April 16, 1862)

Tucker returned to Alexandria to pick up more supplies and ran into some old friends.

Some Particulars Afloat (April 17-18, 1862)

Tucker mentioned in passing that something out of the ordinary is happening at Fairfax Seminary Hospital, but didn't go into detail. Was he worried that someone was reading his diary?

Lowery Today (April 19, 1862)

On a day he described as "lowery," which means dark and gloomy, Tucker wrote about patients having to do their part at the hospital to earn trips into the city.

A Cup of Tea (April 21, 1862)

A doctor in civilian life, Tucker regularly treated himself with homeopathic remedies like tea, as he mentioned in this entry.

A Visit From Chauncey Green (April 20, 1862)

Tucker writes about a visit from a fellow Wisconsin soldier who was also receiving treatment at Fairfax Seminary Hospital.

A Piano (April 22, 1862)

Tucker wrote about an incident at the hospital involving the attempted requisition of a piano. Did Tucker overreact? Was this a symptom of a greater disease at Fairfax Seminary? Future entries will touch upon this at greater length.

The Surgeon Here Is Now Under Arrest (April 23, 1862)

The surgeon at Fairfax Seminary Hospital was arrested, and Tucker noted that he had already written about the offense. Things are starting to get pretty interesting...

The Iron Brigade Moves Out (April 24, 1862)

Tucker relayed news that the Iron Brigade was leaving the area, on its way to Fredericksburg.

Peace Maker (April 25, 1862)

On an otherwise quiet day, Tucker wrote about breaking up a fight between two of his patients at Fairfax Seminary Hospital.

Saw Lieut. Converse (April 26, 1862)

A busy day saw Tucker writing about seeing an Iron Brigade officer with new recruits, getting his picture taken, and a court martial at Fairfax Seminary.

Nothing of Importance (April 27, 1862)

While he modestly tried to pass it off as nothing important, Tucker wrote about his continuing work returning men to health, and to their regiments.

A Dutchman Gave Me A Fiddle (April 28, 1862)

Tucker wrote about a death by disease at Fairfax Seminary Hospital, but today's records show no evidence of the man.

A Present From Thomas Knill (April 29, 1862)

Thomas Knill, a fellow Iron Brigade soldier and likely a patient of Tucker's at Fairfax Seminary, presented Tucker with a gift.

A Great Rumpus (April 30, 1862)

When patients at Fairfax Seminary grow impatient over the lack of an officer to muster them in, Tucker takes matters into his own hands.

Black As A Dark Cow's Belly (May 1, 1862)

Amidst some stormy weather, Tucker wrote about an impromptu concert for the surgeon and his "Lady."

Sent To Their Regiments (May 2-3, 1862)

Continuing his work at Seminary Hospital, Tucker treated wounded and ill soldiers until they were healthy enough to return to their regiments.

My Nurse Has the Mumps (May 4, 1862)

While his nurse suffered from the mumps, Tucker went out in search of alternative medicines to treat ill soldiers.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (May 5-9, 1862)

Amidst news of a Union victory 160 miles south of Fairfax Seminary, Tucker wrote about meeting twice with a fellow Wisconsin soldier.

This Is A Day Long To Be Remembered (May 10, 1862)

Tucker attributed the death of a wounded soldier to poor medical care at Fairfax Seminary Hospital. One can imagine that Tucker's opinion would not prove popular with the doctors in charge. Did Tucker keep his thoughts to himself and his diary, or did he broadcast them more widely? Only future diary entries will tell...

O The Inhumane Practice (May 11, 1862)

Growing increasingly disillusioned with the administration at Fairfax Seminary Hospital, Tucker wrote about his belief that the doctors were keeping wounded and ill men who should just be sent home to die among friends and family.

Our Brave Heroes (May 12, 1862)

Tucker lamented more Union soldiers passing away at Fairfax Seminary Hospital.

Somebody Is Making Money Out Of The Operation (May 13, 1862)

In his longest entry to date, Tucker stated quite plainly his belief that some of the doctors at Fairfax Seminary were corrupt. He suggested that they kept patients, who should be discharged due to the severity of their wounds and illnesses, because they received money based on the number of patients they treated.

Catching Musk Rats in Winter Time (May 14, 1862)

Tucker's tirade about corruption at Fairfax Seminary went into greater detail. He used an analogy involving musk rats to further his contention that the doctors were keeping soldiers who should have been sent home. He also laid out exactly how much money they receive for each patient in the hospital.

A Ruthless Villain (May 15, 1862)

Tucker wrote about being disciplined by "a ruthless villain"--perhaps because he was voicing the concerns he had expressed in previous entries?

I Am Under Arrest (May 16, 1862)

William Wiser, mentioned in an earlier entry, placed Tucker under arrest!

I Enjoy Imprisonment Far Better Than I Ever Supposed I Could (May 17, 1862)

Sent to more comfortable quarters, Tucker wrote that he felt no anxiety over his imprisonment because he knew that he had done nothing wrong.

I Still Have The Key (May 18, 1862)

Seeming to settle into his imprisonment, Tucker repeated that he had the key to his cell.

Fears For My Personal Safety (May 19, 1862)

After describing a suspicious event in which Wiser may have attempted to poison him, Tucker wrote about his belief that he was being illegally held without charge.

I Have Demanded My Release (May 20, 1862)

Tucker reiterated his belief that he was being held unjustly without charge, adding that even if the charges were dropped, he would still pursue justice.

Cooly Waiting For A Court-Martial (May 21, 1862)

As the adrenaline from his arrest abated, Tucker's mood darkened. He continued, though, to believe that he would be released if no charges were presented.

Nothing To Do But Go To My Meals (May 22, 1862)

Tucker wrote about the ease of being a prisoner and having nothing to do, but was he just putting on a brave face?

I Am Bound To Ferret The Thing Out (May 23, 1862)

Tucker remained in prison without charge, and he began to wonder if his jailors, officers from New York, had any authority to hold him.

Charges Preferred Against One Private Isaac Tucker (May 24, 1862)

At long last, Tucker saw the charges brought against him.

Better Days Coming By and By (May 25, 1862)

Tucker wrote about rumors from the battlefield regarding the battle of Williamsburg while continuing to lament his imprisonment.

Great Excitement Prevailed Here (May 26, 1862)

Tucker was able to forget about his plight as rumors abounded that Confederate forces were marching toward Fairfax Seminary Hospital.

Got My Release From Arrest This Morning (May 27, 1862)

As abruptly as it began, Tucker's imprisonment ended. But for how long?

I Am Again Arrested (May 28, 1862)

After a day of freedom, Tucker was again placed under arrest.

The Devil Was Let Loose Somewhere (May 29, 1862)

In a very lengthy entry, a downhearted Tucker wrote about recent war news, happenings at the hospital, and his frustration at being treated so poorly when he voluntarily enlisted to serve his country.

Deprived Of All That I Ever Strove To Maintain (May 30, 1862)

Before lamenting his lot in life, Tucker wrote about a rumor that General Irvin McDowell had been arrested as a Rebel sympathizer.

My Spirits Are Doubly Rectified (May 31, 1862)

In a much more upbeat entry, Tucker described going on a walk and nearly being shelled by artillery from a nearby Union fort as well as a fight between two soldiers.

I Take It As Cool As I Can (June 1, 1862)

A contemplative Isaac Tucker reflects on his situation and his belief that justice will be his in the end.

Nothing Done With My Case (June 2, 1862)

Tucker's morale took a hit when an inspection by a visiting Brigadier General failed to improve his situation.

The Best Bed In The Whole House (June 3, 1862)

Tucker increased his efforts to secure a release, writing to a major general in Washington. On the same day, he was moved to a different building and slept on a feather bed for the first time in almost a year.

A Near Death Experience (June 4, 1862)

As two doctors from the 2nd New York Heavy Artillery are called to Washington, Tucker described the near-death experience of an officer at Fairfax Seminary Hospital.

Before They Fire The Great Gun (June 5, 1862)

Hearing news of continued Union success, Tucker predicted that the war might be over soon. However, he wondered if his imprisonment would interfere with his ability to go home at war's end.

Misery Loves Company (June 6, 1862)

Tucker received word that William Wiser, the man who put him under arrest, had himself been put under arrest in Washington, and he made little effort to disguise his joy at that news.

A Great Deal of Delay (June 7, 1862)

Tucker critiqued the speed with which men were returned to their regiments and noted a new regulation for taking roll at the hospital.

My Confinement Wears Away My Flesh (June 8, 1862)

Citing lack of exercise, Tucker wrote that his muscle tone was disappearing during his imprisonment.

We Are All Suffering For Tobacco (June 9, 1862)

As he lamented the lack of pay and tobacco, Tucker noted that should he get a court martial, most of the relevant witnesses were now returned to their regiments and might take months to call to testify.

I Am A Prisoner Without Any Cause (June 10, 1862)

On the one year anniversary of his enlistment, Tucker reflected that he has been of little use to the Army and has in fact cost them a lot of money. He also noted that while in prison he has not been paid, which prevented him from supporting his family back home.

Fairfax Derby? (June 11, 1862)

Tucker wrote about a doctor and an officer at the hospital arranging a horse race.

I Hear Nothing About My Case (June 12, 1862)

Between mentions of an eclipse and a postponed horse race, Tucker wrote about his frustration at the lack of progress in his case as well as being paid for March and April, which he sent home to his wife.

I Have Two More Roommates (June 13, 1862)

Tucker mentioned two new roommates as well as advice to write General Whipple about his case.

Congress Is Making A Great Stir (June 14, 1862)

Tucker noted that the US Congress was beginning to ask questions about wounded soldiers being kept in hospitals too long, a cause Tucker began discussing more than a month ago.

"Well Tucker, How Are You?" (June 15, 1862)

Tucker described the first medical check-up he received since being arrested.

One of the Greatest Nuisances (June 16, 1862)

Tucker decried the great length of time between a soldier being informed that he would be discharged, and the soldier actually being discharged.

Exercise (June 17, 1862)

Still awaiting news about his case, Tucker wrote about exercising at Fairfax Seminary Hospital.

Mistaken Identity (June 18, 1862)

Tucker related a story about a New York man who was wrongly placed under arrest at Fairfax Seminary Hospital.

Soldiers Aid Committee (June 19, 1862)

Tucker noted that prisoners were now expected to perform some sort of duty during their incarceration--his involved music. He also mentioned a visit and offer of help from a member of Wisconsin's Soldiers' Aid Committee.

Viz Medicatrix Naturae (June 20, 1862)

As Tucker saw signs that his plight might be coming to an end, he wrote some revealing comments about his views on medicine.

The Worst Enemy I Ever Had (June 21, 1862)

Tucker wrote about having his "worst enemy" deliver a letter to him.

Military Law (June 22, 1862)

Tucker bemoaned his unjust captivity, as well as being forced to perform duties while being held prisoner.

Dry Bread and Hay Tea (June 23, 1862)

After he described preparations at the hospital for the arrival of many new patients, Tucker lamented his poor diet as a prisoner.

Charles Rice Gave Me Some Brandy (June 24, 1862)

Still very upset over his imprisonment, Tucker acknowledged a gift from a fellow Wisconsin soldier.

What Is All This For? (June 25, 1862)

Tucker rehashed an old complaint about the doctors at Fairfax Seminary Hospital keeping patients with little to no chance of recovery who should have been sent home to either heal or die among family and friends.

If The Army Officers Do Not Take Notice Of Me, My State Does (June 26, 1862)

On the same day Tucker ate a more substantial breakfast than the toast and tea he'd complained about previously, he also received some delicacies from the an aid group in Wisconsin.

...Or I Will Lose It (June 27-28, 1862)

As thousands of Union troops moved through the area as part of the Seven Days' Battle, Tucker wrote about his growing anger at his continued imprisonment. 

Dress Parade (June 29, 1862)

Tucker described participating in dress parade at Fairfax Seminary Hospital.

The Reason (June 30, 1862)

Tucker at last wrote the reason he felt he was being held prisoner!

I Have Written A Letter To The President Today (July 1, 1862)

Desperate for someone to consider his plight, Tucker wrote a letter pleading his case to Abraham Lincoln.

I Have Done Nothing Today But Read (July 2, 1862)

Tucker relayed news about a recent battle near Richmond.

O How I Long For The Time To Come When I Shall Be Freed (July 3, 1862)

A long meeting with the surgeon made Tucker think that outside forces were beginning to act on his behalf.

One of the Greatest Battles Ever Fought On This Globe (July 4, 1862)

On the anniversary of American independence, Tucker reported news of intense fighting between Union and Confederate forces in Virginia.

I Can Sympathize With The Old Saint (July 5, 1862)

Tucker wrote about wanting to read a biography of St. Paul, as he saw some parallels between their lives.

My Impatience Has Left Me (July 6, 1862)

As General George McClellan's forces pass near Fairfax Seminary Hospital, Tucker noted that felt more patient about his situation.

Dental Surgery (July 7, 1862)

After hearing some good news from the doctor about his case, Tucker described performing a tooth extraction for a local African-American woman.

I Have All The Talking To Do Myself (July 8, 1862)

Tucker mentioned seeing several members of his regiment briefly at Fairfax Seminary Hospital, as well as his roommate Tom who could not speak, leaving all the conversation to Tucker.

Said the Dutchman (July 9, 1862)

Tucker related an amusing incident of mistaken identity involving a recent German immigrant, complete with recreated German accents in the entry.

That Infernal Devil Sergeant Raymond (July 10, 1862)

Tucker received a visit from Sergeant Raymond, whom Tucker held responsible for much of his trouble.

I Dare Them To Try Me Now (July 11-12, 1862)

Tucker noted his fifty-ninth day of imprisonment with a combination of resignation and defiance.

Every State Take Their Own Sick And Wounded (July 13, 1862)

Tucker wrote about a new roommate from Ohio and a rumor that he might be headed back to Wisconsin in the near future.

Came Near Kicking the Bucket (July 14, 1862)

Tucker took ill very suddenly and almost died, according to this entry.

You Are Released (July 15, 1862)

A voice in the middle of the night informed Tucker that he was at last released from his imprisonment.

Many Of Them Have No More Soul Than A Jackass (July 16-17, 1862)

A free man again, Tucker almost immediately returned to his criticism of hospital practices at Fairfax.

Settling Matters (July 18, 1862)

Hearing that Dr. Armstrong was transferring to a different hospital, Tucker wrote about his desire to thank him for the help with his case.

Better It If You Can (July 19, 1862)

Tucker related an amusing incident in which patients complained about the quality of the food.

Blackberrying (July 20, 1862)

Tucker described a relaxing day picking blackberries.

Washington (July 21-26, 1862)

Finally discharged from the hospital and ordered to return to his regiment, Tucker made a stop in the nation's capital to receive his pay.

Bed Bugs (July 27, 1862)

Tucker made one last visit to Fairfax Seminary Hospital to get his belongings before moving on and encountering some bed bugs on the road.

To The Great Astonishment Of All Our Boys (July 28, 1862)

After almost four months away, Tucker at last returned to the ranks of the 6th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment near Fredericksburg.

Setting Up Camp (July 29-August 1, 1862)

Tucker described the 6th Wisconsin setting up a camp outside of Fredericksburg.

I Find Myself All Beat Out (August 2, 1862)

Returned to light duty, Tucker wrote about his struggle to regain his health and endurance in the field.

My 43d Birthday (August 3, 1862)

On his birthday, Tucker wrote about helping treat his stricken captain.

Some of Our Boys Fell Out (August 4-7, 1862)

When the Iron Brigade was sent out on reconnaissance, Tucker and other wounded or sick soldiers remained behind, and were joined by others who fell out along the march.

Pass to Falmouth (August 8-9, 1862)

While awaiting the return of the Iron Brigade from their reconnaissance mission, Tucker took in the sights of a nearby town.

The Return of the Iron Brigade (August 10, 1862)

Tucker detailed the return of the Iron Brigade, describing their mission and something they picked up on the way back.

Tired Enough to Rest (August 11-14, 1862)

The Iron Brigade took a couple of days to rest and recover from their reconnaissance mission, Tucker reported.

Hurry Up and Wait (August 15-16, 1862)

The Iron Brigade received orders to march for their next mission, but were then asked to wait. And wait.

Slaughter Mountain (August 17, 1862)

Tucker and the Iron Brigade start a march toward the battlefield at Cedar Mountain, where Union forces lost a battle eight days previously.

Near the Battle Ground (August 18-20, 1862)

Tucker and the Iron Brigade continued their approach to the Cedar Mountain battlefield.

Enough to Sicken a Dog (August 21, 1862)

Tucker and the Iron Brigade finally reached the Cedar Mountain battlefield, and he described the sights, and smells, of an eleven day old battlefield.

A Hard Looking Scene (August 22-23, 1862)

Tucker walked around the Cedar Mountain battlefield almost two weeks after the fighting and described the scene.

Marched All Night (August 24-26, 1862)

As the Iron Brigade marched closer to a pending battle, an ill Tucker traveled with the wagon train.

A Large Supply of Honey (August 27-28, 1862)

Continuing on with the wagon train, Tucker and a fellow 6th Wisconsin soldier encounter a Vermont unit who had raided a bee hive for a special treat.

A Hideous Yell From The Rebel Cavalry (August 29, 1862)

In his most action-packed day, Tucker wrote about his wagon train being attacked by some Confederate cavalrymen while his friends in the 6th Wisconsin took part in the the Second Battle of Bull Run.

Fired Into By The Rebel Cavalry (August 31, 1862)

Tucker related his second experience under fire.

Visited the Old Home (September 1, 1862)

Tucker spent one final night at Fairfax Seminary Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia.

I Took the Cars for Home (September 2, 1862)

In his final diary entry, which spans almost two full months, Tucker described the end of his service and his return to Wisconsin.
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