On the morning of June 18, 1864, Pvt. Payson Wolf trudged through the streets of Petersburg, Va., with other battered and bloodied Union prisoners of war. The captives were herded into an old tobacco barn with hundreds of other bluecoats to await their fate in the hands of Confederate military authorities.
Only hours earlier, Wolf had come out on the wrong end of a rare nighttime assault, which put him and his comrades in an advanced position near the formidable defenses of the Cockade City. They had been attacked by veteran North Carolina troops and compelled to surrender after a brief and brutal fight.
The prisoners were quickly divested of their muskets; one company of Tar Heels jumped at the opportunity to trade their worn weapons for the captured guns. They soon noticed that the wooden musket stocks had been ornately carved with fish, snakes, turtles and other animals – perhaps their first clue that their captives were no ordinary Union soldiers.