Northern and Southern prisons
The prisons of the Civil War
, North and South, were for the most part temporary makeshifts, hastily constructed, and seldom suitable for human beings in confinement; or else they were structures intended for other purposes and transformed into prisons.
If judged by standards now generally accepted, nearly all, as they actually existed, would have been condemned for the lack of the most elementary sanitary requirements.
Prisoners were confined during the course of the war in more than one hundred and fifty places, but of these hardly more than twenty are important.
In some of the others the use as a prison was short, or else the number confined was always small; in many, conditions so closely resembled those in other prisons that the description of one fits all of the class.
We may classify the important prisons of the war under the following heads: First, fortifications, of which Fort Warren
in Boston Harbor
, Fort Lafayette at New York, and Castle Pinckney at Charleston
are types; second, buildings previously constructed to restrain criminals, of which the old penitentiary at Alton, Illinois
, was the most important; third, buildings constructed for various purposes, turned into prisons with more or less alteration, typical of which were the Old Capitol at Washington
, the Gratiot Street Prison
in St. Louis
, and the Libby in Richmond
; fourth, enclosures surrounding barracks, sometimes previously constructed for other uses, and sometimes built for prison purposes, which type included several of the Northern
prisons as Johnson's Island
, Camp Morton, and Rock Island
; fifth, enclosures within which
Libby prison a unique photograph
Several views of Libby Prison were taken from the land side, but this picture is unique in that it shows the building as it appeared from the river.
The boat at the landing is loaded with provisions which have been brought from the mills of the upper James River for the prisoners and garrison.
The view is taken from the south side of the dock.
This photograph, with those on the three following pages, were taken inside the Confederate lines during the war by Confederate photographers.
The officers in Libby Prison were not satisfied with their food, with the exception of Major James M. Sanderson, who had served in the Union commissary department and who issued a statement confirming the claims of the Confederate officials, thereby exciting the ire of his fellow-prisoners, who held a mass-meeting to condemn him.|
tents were pitched, as at City Point
, Maryland, and on Belle Isle
in the James River
; sixth, open stockades in which men were placed to secure shelter as best they might.
is the best known of such prison enclosures.
The fortifications, so far as enlisted men were concerned, were not important.
soldiers were sent to Fort Warren
during the first year of the war, and some of the naval prisoners were confined there afterward, but this prison held chiefly political prisoners and general officers of the Confederacy
It bears the unique distinction of being the only one which all inmates praise.
For the greater part of the war it was under charge of Colonel
) Justin Dimick
, an old army officer, who preserved discipline by kindness.
Fort Lafayette, New York, held the privateersmen previously mentioned, and Confederate officers, but was chiefly devoted to the restraint of citizens accused of disloyalty to the United States
Its commander was Colonel Martin Burke
, of whom General Scott
said: ‘ Colonel Martin Burke
is famous for his unquestioning obedience to orders.
He was with me in Mexico
, and if I had told him at any time to take one of my aides-de-Camp and shoot him before breakfast, the aide's execution would have been duly reported.’
In Fort McHenry
, the prisoners were always drawn from many classes, privates, officers
, chaplains, surgeons, and citizens suspected of disloyalty.
The number of the latter was large at times, as probably a majority of the citizens of Maryland
was Southern in sympathy.
, in the Delaware River
, held prisoners of state and officers also within the fort, but it is better known as a place of confinement for private soldiers.
Barracks for their accommodation were constructed within the wall surrounding the fort, and the number in confinement was always large.
The ground upon which the prisoners were placed was several feet below the level of high water, which was kept out by means of dikes.
The poorly constructed barracks in the shape of a ‘ T’
Libby: the first reproduction of a photograph showing this most famous of all prisons while in Confederate hands
The negative of this war-time photograph of Libby Prison was destroyed in the Richmond conflagration of 1865.
Positives from this negative, taken by Rees of Richmond inside the Confederate lines during the war, were never sold.
Its publication in this history is its first appearance.
Remarkable also is the fact that the central figure in the group of three in the foreground is Major Thomas P. Turner, commandant of Libby Prison and of Belle Isle. Major Turner was prominent in prison work almost from the beginning to the end of the war. He excited the enmity of a number of his prisoners, and it was expected that he would be tried after the surrender.
No charges, however, were brought against him, and he was released.
The whole number of Union prisoners confined in Libby Prison from the outbreak of the war to its close is estimated in round figures at 125,000.
The books used in the office of Libby Prison and containing names, regiment, date of capture, etc., of every Federal officer and private that ever passed its doors, were deposited in Washington.
The books were found to be carefully and accurately kept by the chief-clerk, E. W. Ross.|
were often damp and cold during the winter.
A Hungarian refugee, General A. A. Schoepf
, held command.
No other Northern prison was so dreaded in the South
The only fortification in which the Confederate Government kept prisoners was Castle Pinckney at Charleston
Here for a time officers and men were confined, among them being Colonel Michael Corcoran
of the Sixty-ninth New York, held as a hostage for the privateersman, Smith
Jails and penitentiaries were often used as prisons of war, but their use was generally temporary, as war does not prevent the commission of ordinary crimes.
General John H. Morgan
and his officers were confined in the penitentiary at Columbus, Ohio
The chief building of this class was the abandoned State penitentiary at Alton, Illinois
This building seems to have been established as a prison by order of General Halleck
, on the 4th day of February, 1862.
This commander, whose knowledge of the laws of war probably exceeded that of any other soldier on either side, recounts at some length the rules he wished established, which, however, were soon withdrawn.
The prison was unfortunate in its commandants, and was nearly always crowded.
The water supply was scanty, and the drainage bad. It is not surprising that the mortality here several times was more than five per cent. a month and occasionally even higher.
Buildings already existing were utilized to a greater extent in the South
than in the North
Among the manufacturing establishments of the South
, tobacco-factories were most common.
They were nearly always constructed of brick, and the light and ventilation were good.
Comparatively little machinery was used and hence they could be easily cleared for prison purposes when rented or impressed.
was a center of this industry, and a number of the buildings were used as prisons and hospitals.
The plan was almost invariable.
They were rectangular, two or three stories in height, and entirely without ornament.
Where the first Federal prisoners were sent—young South Carolinians at drill
Again the reader penetrates inside the Confederate lines in war-time, gazing here at the grim prison barriers of Castle Pinckney, in Charleston Harbor, where some of the Union prisoners captured at the first battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861, had been sent.
The thick stone walls frown down upon the boys of the Charleston Zouave Cadets, assigned to guard these prisoners.
Here they are drilling within the prison under the command of Lieutenants E. John White (in front at the right) and B. M. Walpole, just behind him. The cadet kneeling upon the extreme right is Sergeant (later Captain) Joseph F. Burke.
The responsibility was a heavy one, but the ‘Cadets’ were a well-drilled body of youngsters and proved quite equal to their duties.
This was early in the war before there were brigadier-generals scarcely of age, and youth had been found not to preclude soldierly qualities.
No escapes from this fortress have been chronicled.|
were of heavy planks and were sometimes divided by partitions, but oftener the entire area of the floor was in one large room.
Among these factory prisons was Liggon
's, where the Bull Run
and Ball's Bluff officers and a part of the privates were confined.
This was next used as a hospital, then closed for a time, and again opened to receive Federal sick.
Castle Thunder, where Confederate soldiers undergoing punishment, deserters, and citizens who were accused of disloyalty were confined, was another of this sort.
Perhaps a half-dozen other factories in Richmond
were used for prison purposes at different times during the war. Warehouses were also used for prison purposes in Danville
, and other towns.
Castle Thunder was perhaps the worst of these, but it was a penitentiary rather than a prison of war.
Libby Prison is often incorrectly called a tobacco-factory.
It was the warehouse of Libby
and Sons, ship-chandlers, situated on the James River
at the corner of Twentieth and Cary streets. It was a large four-story building, containing eight rooms.
No furniture was ever placed in it, and the men slept upon the floor.
From it, Colonel Rose
and his companions escaped, in 1864, by tunneling from the basement floor under the street, but escapes were generally few. This prison was under command of Major Thomas P. Turner
, though a subordinate, Richard Turner
, had more direct control.
For a time an attempt to preserve reasonable sanitary precautions was made.
The floors were washed; a rude bathroom was installed, and the walls were frequently whitewashed.
As the months went on, conditions gradually grew worse, as it was generally crowded, even after some of the officers were sent to Macon
, and Salisbury
The prison at Cahaba, Alabama
, was an old cotton-shed, partially unroofed, with bunks for five hundred men. A few hundred prisoners were confined here early in 1864, but were transferred to Andersonville
soon after that prison was opened.
In the summer of 1864 prisoners were again sent here, and in
Belle isle the Confederate commandant in the foreground the capitol of the Confederacy in the distance
Prominent in the foreground is Major Thomas P. Turner, commandant of Belle Isle and Libby Prison.
He is clad in Confederate gray, with a soft felt hat, and his orderly stands behind him. Before him are some tents of the Union prisoners—a trifle nearer the Capitol at Richmond seen across the river than they care to be at the present juncture.
The fact that this noble edifice was erected under the direction of Thomas Jefferson, on the plan of the Maison-Carree at Nimes, could do little to alleviate their mental distress.
The crest of the hill on which Major Turner is standing is one hundred and twelve feet above tidewater, overlooking the encampment.
The guard and guard-tents appear in the distance at the edge of the river.
This is the fourth successive war-time photograph taken inside the Confederate lines shown in this chapter.
The original negative was destroyed by fire on the memorable morning of the 3rd of April, 1865.|
October more than two thousand were confined within the stockade surrounding the prison.
The prisoners cooked their own food; the commissary seems not to have used proper diligence, and on account of lack of tools the enclosure was badly policed.
The water supply was generally good, though at one time subject to pollution.
The chief Federal prisons of this class were the Old Capitol at Washington
, and the Gratiot Street Prison
in St. Louis
After the burning of the Capitol
by the British
during the War
of 1812, a temporary structure was hastily erected to house Congress while the present Capitol
Afterward it was used as a boarding-house, but gradually fell into dilapidation.
During the Civil War
, it and some adjoining houses were used to confine prisoners of war, deserters, suspects, and persons awaiting trial for political offenses.
After the war some Southern state officials were confined there.
The Gratiot Street Prison
contained at all times during its history as a prison a motley crew of Federal deserters, bounty-jumpers, offenders against the laws of war, spies, bushwhackers, and citizens charged with disloyalty as well as prisoners of war. The building, formerly the McDowell
Medical College, was constructed in 1847 by Doctor J. M. McDowell
, and its architecture is said to have represented the eccentricities of the builder.
An octagonal central building, surmounted by an oddly shaped dome, was flanked by two wings.
The central building was not divided, and each of the rooms had a diameter of about sixty feet. The safe capacity of the building was hardly more than five hundred, although at times twice that number were crowded within its walls.
It seems that often civilians and prisoners of war were confined together.
Twice the inmates set the building on fire.
With so many reckless men among the prisoners, attempts to escape were frequent.
Sometimes the guard was attacked, and at other times the prisoners tunneled under the walls.
The prisons of the next class, that is, enclosures
The keepers of City Point prison Brigadier-General James Barnes and staff at City Point, Md.
Brigadier-General James Barnes was in command of the district of St. Mary's, with headquarters at Point Lookout, Md., during the latter part of the war. Here the largest prison of the North was established August 1, 1863, on the low peninsula where the Potomac joins the Chesapeake Bay.
No barracks were erected within the enclosure; tents were used instead.
There was at all times a sufficiency of these for shelter, though at times nearly twenty thousand Confederate prisoners were in confinement here, and they were occasionally overcrowded.
Negro troops formed part of the guard, and such a vast number of prisoners naturally required a large organization to take care of them.
In this photograph are shown all the officers in connection with the prison.
From left to right, not counting the two soldiers holding the flags, they are: Dr. A. Heger, medical director; Captain C. H. Drew, assistant adjutant-general; Captain H. E. Goodwin, assistant quartermaster; Lieutenant H. C. Strong, assistant quartermaster; Brigadier-General James Barnes; Major A. G. Brady, provost-marshal; Dr. T. H. Thompson, surgeon; Captain J. W. Welch, ordnance officer; Lieutenant Wilson, aide-de-camp; and the last is Lieutenant J. T. Cantwell, engineer.|
containing barracks, belong entirely to the North
All of them were overcrowded at times; the drainage was frequently bad, and the water supply was generally insufficient.
Though several had been previously used as recruiting and instruction camps, such use had been only for a few months at a time, and the soldiers had had, of course, large liberty.
On the appointment of Lieutenant-Colonel William Hoffman
, as commissary-general of prisoners, October 7, 1861, he was immediately ordered to select a prison site in the North
, but was limited to no higher latitude ‘ than the west end of Lake Erie
, in order to avoid too rigorous a climate.’
reported in favor of Johnson's Island
, lying in Sandusky Bay
, about two and a half miles from the city of Sandusky
The island was about a mile and a half long and from one-quarter to one-third of a mile wide, and was covered with trees.
The prison fence, enclosing about seventeen acres, had sentry posts on the outside, while inside were rude barracks two stories high.
In the beginning, it was thought that this prison, together with the forts already mentioned, would be sufficient to house all prisoners, as no one then dreamed that as many as sixty thousand would be in durance at one time.
was expected to take charge of this prison.
The first commandant was W. S. Pierson
, a business man of Sandusky
, entirely without military training, who was commissioned major to command a battalion of prison guards raised for the purpose.
He was later succeeded by Colonel Charles W. Hill
, who commanded to the end.
The number of Confederate prisoners soon became so large that other prisons were necessary, and during 1862 it was determined to restrict this prison to officers.
The number so confined after August, 1863, ranged from about seventeen hundred to about three thousand two hundred and fifty, with an average of about two thousand five hundred.
On the whole, conditions here were good, except that sanitation was neglected.
Camp Morton, at Indianapolis
, was originally the State
Fair Ground, which had been used during the fall
of 1861 and 1862 as barracks for a few Indiana
The Camp was turned into a prison to accommodate those captured in Forts Henry
, and what had formerly been sheds for horses and cattle or exhibition halls became barracks for prisoners.
Apparently some of these barracks had no floors and during the winter could not be kept clean.
The buildings were cheaply built, and the snow, wind, and rain came through.
A part of the time fuel was insufficient.
The enclosure was large, contained a number of trees, and the possibilities of drainage were good.
During the first year the Camp was under control of the governor of Indiana
, but afterward came under the supervision of Colonel Hoffman
, the commissary-general
In 1863, Colonel A. A. Stevens
of the Invalid Corps
became commandant of the prison, and under him conditions improved.
The prison at Rock Island
stood on an island in the Mississippi River
between the cities of Rock Island, Illinois
, and Davenport, Iowa
The island itself was about three miles long and half a mile wide.
The construction of the prison was ordered in July, 1863, and on August 12th, the quartermaster-general instructed the builder that ‘ the barracks for prisoners on Rock Island
should be put up in the roughest and cheapest manner, mere shanties, with no fine work about them.’
A high fence enclosed eighty-four barracks arranged in six rows of fourteen each.
The barracks were eighty-two by twenty-two by twelve feet, with a cook-house at the end of each.
The ventilation was poor, and only two stoves were placed in each of the barracks.
The water supply was partly secured from an artesian well and partly from the river by means of a steam-pump, which frequently gave out for days at a time.
Though the prison was not quite completed, over five thousand prisoners were sent during the month of December, 1863, and from that time on the prison usually contained from five thousand to eight thousand prisoners until the end of the war.
During the first months the medical staff was inexperienced, and the Camp was scourged by smallpox which was, in fact, seldom absent for any length of time.
Later, a new medical officer brought order out of confusion, but the staff here was never so efficient as at some other prisons.
A very expensive hospital was erected, paid for from the ‘ prison fund,’ which amounted to one hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars in 1865.
, in Chicago
, was a large instruction and recruiting camp, of which the prison formed a comparatively small part.
The Camp was on low ground, which was flooded with every rain, and during a considerable part of the winter was a sea of mud. The barracks were poor and conditions generally were unsanitary.
President H. W. Bellows
of the Sanitary Commission says, June 30, 1862, speaking of the barracks, ‘ Nothing but fire can cleanse them,’ and urges the abandonment of the Camp as a prison.
The place was not abandoned, however; and in February, 1863, out of 3884 prisoners, 387 died.
This mortality rate, almost exactly ten per cent. for the month, was not reached in any month, in any other large prison during the war, so far as the ‘ Official Records
Camp Chase, at Columbus, Ohio
, was another instruction Camp turned into a prison to accommodate the prisoners captured at Forts Henry
, in February, 1862, and used as such until the end of the war. Conditions here were similar to those at Camp Morton in general features, as were also those at Camp Butler, near Springfield, Illinois
, which was, however, abandoned for prison purposes in 1862.
After the suspension of the agreement to exchange prisoners, May 25, 1863, the numbers in confinement began to exceed the provision made for them, and in May, 1864, some barracks on the Chemung River
near Elmira, New York
, were enclosed for prison purposes.
Before the end of August, the number of prisoners reached almost ten thousand.
Fort Johnson in Sandusky bay, lake Erie
This photograph shows one of the forts used to guard the prisoners at Johnson's Island, Lake Erie.
The prison here was expected to be sufficient to accommodate the whole number of prisoners taken during the war, in which, however, Quartermaster-General Meigs was much disappointed.
When Lieutenant-Colonel William Hoffman, commissary-general of prisoners, had been ordered to Lake Erie in the fall of 1861 to select a prison-site, with the limitation that it must be in no higher latitude ‘than the west end of Lake Erie, in order to avoid too rigorous a climate,’ he reported in favor of Johnson's Island, lying in Sandusky Bay, about two and a half miles from the city of Sandusky.
The prison fence, enclosing about seventeen acres, had sentry posts upon the outside, while inside were rude barracks about two stories high.
This prison was first commanded by Major W. S. Pierson, and was then under charge of Colonel Charles W. Hill.
After the first year of its existence it was occupied exclusively as an officers' prison.
Sometimes more than three thousand were confined here at the same time.
The average was about two thousand five hundred.
Conditions in this prison were generally good, although the prisoners from the Gulf States suffered intensely from the cold winds from Lake Erie.
Some of them froze on the terrible New Year's Day of 1864.|
here were unsatisfactory, partly because of a feud between the surgeon and the commandant.
The sick-rate was high.
The barracks could accommodate less than half the prisoners sent here and tents were used by the remainder well on into the winter, though the weather became intensely cold.
On December 4, 1864, the inspecting officer reports that both meat and flour were bad and that 1166 of the prisoners had not even one blanket.
The cold winds seemed especially severe upon the prisoners from the Gulf
States, who, thinly clad and poorly nourished, were especially susceptible to pneumonia.
The death-record furnished the commissary-general
of prisoners shows for the winter of 1864– 65 an average death-rate of five per cent. a month.
The next class, that in which tents were used for shelter, includes but two prisons, City Point
, and Belle Isle
, in the James River
, near Richmond
The former was established August 1, 1863, on a low peninsula where the Potomac
joins the Chesapeake Bay
No barracks were erected, but tents were used instead.
There seems at all times to have been a sufficiency of these for shelter, though they were sometimes crowded.
The prison was the largest in the North
, and at times nearly twenty thousand were in confinement.
The water at first came from wells only a few feet deep, but was, however, so strongly impregnated with iron and alkaline salts, that a boat was ordered to bring fresh water, though for a considerable time the trips were irregular.
Opportunity for bathing was afforded, but in winter the air was cold and damp, and the ground upon which most of the men lay was also damp.
The commandant was changed several times, and conditions were never entirely satisfactory to the medical officers
As at Fort Delaware
, negro troops formed a part of the guard.
was an island in the James River
, near Richmond
, used after 1862 for the confinement of non-commissioned officers and enlisted men. The drainage was generally good;
water was of course abundant, though soap was lacking, and at first rations were sufficient to preserve the strength of the prisoners.
During the summer of 1863 conditions were endurable, but as larger numbers were sent thither, food became scarcer, and as the weather grew colder, much suffering ensued.
On November 18, 1863, according to the report of the Confederate
inspector, there were sixty-three hundred in confinement, though the encampment had been intended for about three thousand, and tents for only that number had been provided.
An effort to provide more was made, but tents to shelter all the prisoners were never furnished.
Many prisoners lay on the damp ground without protection of any sort and there was much suffering during the winter.
Little seems to have been done to better conditions except to hurry along the completion of the stockade at Andersonville
, and on March 6, 1864, the medical inspector reported that one-fourth the prisoners were sick.
As captives were sent further south there were fewer complaints for a time, but in September, 1864, conditions were evidently as bad as ever.
The efforts of the officers in charge show how strained were the resources of the Confederacy
Only seventy-five tents could be found in Richmond
, and lumber could not be had at all.
The last class of prisons, open stockades without shelter, was found only in the South
It included Camp Sumter at Anderson
, and Camp Lawton at Millen, Georgia
; Camp Ford, near Tyler
, and Camp Groce near Hempstead, Texas
, and the stockades at Savannah
, and Columbia
Though there were several buildings within the fence at Salisbury
, they could accommodate only a small proportion of the prisoners confined there, so that this prison belongs, in part at least, to this class also.
As early as 1862, the Confederate
Commissary Department broke down under the strain of feeding both the Army of Northern Virginia and a considerable number of prisoners in Virginia
The exchange of prisoners following the agreement
Camp Douglas, where ten percent of the prisoners died one month
In February, 1863, out of 3,884 prisoners, 387 died at Camp Douglas in Chicago, or almost exactly ten per cent., a mortality rate for one month not reached by any other large prison during the war. The Camp was on low ground, the drainage bad, and conditions generally were unsanitary.
Its abandonment as a prison was urged by President H. W. Bellows of the Sanitary Commission.
It is hard for us to realize, as we look at this group of apparently hale and hearty young men, how great a toll death took by reason of the ignorance or indifference of their keepers.
It was no contemplated part of the war to allow such things to happen, but those in charge of the prisoners were often hampered by lack of appropriations and delay in delivering supplies.
The question of the proper feeding and adequate housing of prisoners in sanitary surroundings remained unsolved by either side until the close of the protracted conflict.|
of July, 1862, lessened the pressure somewhat, but subsequent captures made further provision necessary.
In 1863, it was determined to build a large prison further south, in territory which was not tributary to Virginia
as far as food was concerned.
After much investigation, Anderson
, then a railroad station twelve miles north of Americus, Georgia
, was chosen.
Here was constructed in 1863-64 the structure which acquired notoriety equal to that of the Bastile or Newgate.
The locality was selected by Captain W. S. Winder
, a son of General John H. Winder
, then commanding the Department of Henrico.
The plan of the post allowed both for offense and defense, and showed engineering ability of no mean order.
The prison was a stockade, within which it was intended to build barracks for from eight to ten thousand men. This stockade was constructed of squared trunks of trees, about twenty feet long, set five feet into the ground, enclosing an area, first of about seventeen acres, afterward enlarged to about twentyseven acres, though several acres were swamp.
An outer stockade surrounded the prison, and a third was begun but never completed.
The ground sloped down on both sides to a small stream, a branch of Sweet Water Creek
, which ran from west to east through the stockade.
This stream was about fifty feet below the highest point within the enclosure and the stream itself was about three hundred feet above the sea level.
The hills were covered with pine trees which were cut down to furnish material for the stockade, and no trees of any considerable size were left, though the stumps, the branches, and the underbrush covered the ground when the first prisoners entered.
The soil was sandy with small admixture of vegetable mold or of clay.
Water sank readily into the soil or was drained off. The stream flowing through the stockade was clear, the water naturally pure, and the locality seems not to have been unsuitable for a prison for the number of inmates for which it was originally designed.
Though orders had been given to construct the prison in
1863, labor was scarce and difficult to procure.
It was necessary to resort to impressment of slave labor, and the stockade was not completed in February, 1864, when the first instalment of prisoners arrived.
Colonel A. W. Persons
at first had charge of the post, and there seem to have been no complaints of his administration, except that perhaps he should have urged the construction of more huts.
A beginning was made, and few barracks for hospital use were constructed inside the stockade, but lumber, nails and labor were so difficult to procure that before more than a beginning had been made, the great wave of incoming prisoners swamped the prison authorities.
From that time it was a constant struggle to secure performance in the rudest way of the routine duties of the day.
During the month of March, 1864, the prison contained about seventy-five hundred men. Even this number filled the enclosure, as only about one hundred square feet, that is, a space of ten feet by ten to the man, was available for each prisoner.
Rations were issued uncooked and within this limited area ‘prisoners were compelled to perform all the offices of life.’
In April the number rose to ten thousand, in May to fifteen and in June to more than twenty-two thousand men, and the amount of space available was thus reduced to about thirty-three square feet to the man. During June an addition of about forty per cent. to the area of the stockade was completed, and though nearly seven thousand additional prisoners were received during the month, the amount of space available for each was larger than it had been the month before.
During August the mean strength of the prisoners was 32,899, and the average amount of space available less than thirty-six square feet to the man. But even this represents ‘ the condition of the stockade in a better light even than it really was; for a considerable breadth of land along the stream . . . between the hills was low and boggy.’
General John H. Winder
was placed in charge of this prison and also of the officers'
Elmira prison before the additional barracks were built
This is an early picture of Elmira Prison before additional barracks had been constructed.
The old barracks are visible in the middle distance, while almost the entire space in front is covered with tents under which a considerable part of the Confederate prisoners were accommodated until the winter.
The Elmira Prison was opened in May, 1864.
Before the end of August the prisoners there numbered almost ten thousand.
Conditions here were always bad, partly on account of the insufficient shelter, and partly because of a feud between the commandant and surgeon.
The latter, E. F. Sanger, wrote under date of November 1, 1864, to Brigadier-General J. K. Barnes, Surgeon-General of the United States Army: ‘Since August there have been 2,011 patients admitted to the hospital, 775 deaths out of a mean strength of 8,347 prisoners of war, or twenty-four per cent. admitted and nine per cent. died.
Have averaged daily 451 in hospital and 601 in quarters, an aggregate of 1,052 per day sick.
At this rate the entire command will be admitted to hospital in less than a year and thirty-six per cent. die.’
This was due to the delay in filling his requisitions.|
prison at Macon
, while retaining for a time his control of the prisons in Virginia
His duties were largely those of a commissary-general of prisoners but without the title and without the full authority belonging to the office.
The commandant of the prison interior was Captain Henry Wirz
, about whose character so much has been written.
This officer was of Swiss birth, and at the beginning of the war was practicing medicine in Louisiana
He enlisted as a private in a Louisiana regiment, and at Seven Pines
his right arm was badly shattered.
On partial recovery he was assigned to General Winder
for service in the prisons in Richmond
, and in October, 1862, was sent to Alabama
in search of missing records of prisoners, and for a time served in the prison in Tuscaloosa, Alabama
In 1863, he visited Europe
, one story says, carrying despatches to the Confederate
While there he sought surgical assistance but the surgeons failed to remove all the diseased bone, and during the last months of his life he was never free from pain.
Early in 1864, he was ordered to report at Andersonville
, where he was soon placed in command of the interior of the stockade.
This command he retained while prisoners were at Andersonville
, in June, telegraphed Adjutant-General Cooper
that the stockade was already taxed to its utmost extent, the mortality was considerable, and that additional guards and medical officers were needed.
The assistance asked was promised him, and he was instructed to place the prisoners properly.
In the light of conditions, General Winder
's reply is not devoid of a certain grim humor: ‘ You speak of placing the prisoners properly.
I do not comprehend what is intended by it. I know of but one way to place them and that is to put them in the stockade, where they have between four and five square yards to the man. This includes streets and two acres of land about the stream.’
The attempt of the officers in charge to remedy the bad conditions which soon arose seem to have been sincere.
made requisitions for hoes,
Evening roll-call for the Elmira prisoners—1864
This photograph was cherished through half a century by Berry Benson, of the First South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, who escaped from Elmira by digging a tunnel sixty-six feet long under the tents and stockade.
It shows the prisoners at evening roll-call for dinner in the winter of 1864.
The sergeants in front of the long line of prisoners are calling the roll.
There were both Federal and Confederate sergeants.
Elmira prison contained from the time of its establishment several thousand Confederate prisoners.
The barracks in the foreground had been completed only a few days when this picture was made, and up to that time a large number of prisoners had occupied tents.
The leaves are gone from the trees, and it is obvious that the winter frosts have set in. The tents were unheated, and the inmates suffered severely from the cold.
The sentry in the foreground is not paying strict attention to the prisoners.
The men grouped around the tree are indicated by Mr. Benson as Federal officers.
The rate of mortality in this prison was very high.|
shovels, and picks, but as the blockade grew tighter and the old tools were worn out, this became a matter of greater and greater difficulty.
Even the commonest implements were scarce within the beleaguered Confederacy.
Sometimes he was unable to serve certain articles of food for want of proper vessels in which to place them.
The commissary and quartermaster seem also to have struggled to secure the theoretical ration, viz.: ‘ Beef, one pound, or bacon, one-third of a pound; corn-meal
, one and one-fourth pounds, with an occasional issue of rice, beans, molasses, and vinegar.’
Soon, however, the ration dwindled to one pound of cornmeal and one-third pound of bacon.
Later, bacon was not always issued.
All the other articles were issued but seldom.
For the want of proper sieves the corn-meal
was unsifted, and the sharp particles of the husk so irritated the stomachs and intestines of those unaccustomed to its use that diarrhea was practically universal.
The lack of vegetables, the crowding, and the filth brought on much sickness for which the hospital accommodations were totally inadequate.
This hospital at first was inside the stockade, but was soon transferred to the outside, though to little advantage.
In the prison itself, as the summer came on, conditions grew more and more hard.
We do not need to repeat the sensational accounts of prisoners so popular just after the war. There exist two documents, one a report of Lieutenant-Colonel D. T. Chandler
, who inspected the prison in August, 1864, and the report of Doctor Joseph Jones
, who spent several weeks at the prison in September and October, 1864.
These set forth clearly and dispassionately conditions as they actually existed, and from them we are able to reconstruct the prison scene.
Here is the stockade, as Doctor Jones
saw it in September, even after the worst of the crowding was over:
‘In the stockade, with the exception of the damp lowlands bordering the small streams, the surface was covered with huts and small ragged tents, and parts of blankets and fragments
of oilcloth, coats, and blankets stretched upon sticks.
The tents and huts were not arranged according to any order, and there was in most parts of the enclosure scarcely room for two men to walk abreast between the tents and huts. . . . Masses of corn bread, bones, old rags, and filth of every description were scattered around or accumulated in large piles.
If one might judge from the large pieces of corn bread scattered about in every direction on the ground, the prisoners were either very lavishly supplied with this article of diet or else this kind of food was not relished by them.’
The stream was not strong enough to carry away the filth and the swampy lowland became indescribably foul.
Each day the dead from the stockade were carried out by their fellow prisoners and deposited upon the ground under a bush arbor just outside of the southwestern gate.
From thence they were carried in carts to the burying ground one-quarter of a mile northwest of the prison.
The dead were buried without coffins, side by side, in trenches four feet deep.
The hospital itself was a group of worn-out tents, many of them leaky and some of them without sides.
There were no bunks and but little straw.
Hundreds of the patients lay upon the bare ground.
Their food differed little from that of the prisoners within the stockade though the surgeon in charge was able to obtain small quantities of flour and arrowroot.
The prevalent diseases were scurvy, diarrhea, dysentery, and hospital gangrene.
Doctor W. J. W. Kerr
, who was a member of the medical staff at Andersonville
during a considerable portion of its existence as a prison, has advanced the theory that the disease which they diagnosed as a form of scurvy was in reality pellagra, declaring that the symptoms of this recently identified disease fit precisely hundreds of cases he observed in Andersonville
But whether scurvy or pellagra, the effects were horrible.
Here Doctor Jones
says, ‘ From the crowded condition, filthy habits, bad diet, and dejected, depressed condition of
Before the office of the commissary-general of prisoners—1864
The work in the office of the commissary-general of prisoners was arduous and important.
The reports of all prisons, the requisitions for extraordinary supplies, and every detail of the handling of prisoners passed through his hands.
Guided by these records and statistics, he indicated to the provost-marshals of the various armies where the prisoners should be sent.
He issued his orders directly to the commanding officers regardless of the departmental commanders; he determined how the prisoners should be clothed and fed, and what accommodations in the way of new buildings and stockades should be prepared for them.
Through this systematic method the whereabouts of almost every prisoner taken by the United States troops was at all times a matter of record at headquarters.|
the prisoners, their systems became so disordered that the smallest abrasion of the skin from the rubbing of a shoe, or from the effects of the hot sun, or from the prick of a splinter, or from scratching a mosquito bite, in some cases took on rapid and frightful ulceration and gangrene.’
From this description of prison and hospital, one cannot wonder that nearly one-third of the total number of prisoners confined died within the space of eleven months. The crowding, the poor food, the lack of medicine, the hospital infected with gangrene, the lack of the simplest hygienic appliances, homesickness, and last, but not least, the hot Southern sun altogether took fearful toll of those confined within the stockade.
With the approach of Sherman
's army all prisoners, except about five thousand sick, were transferred to Savannah
during the months of September and October. Colonel G. C. Gibbs
, who now commanded at the post, took energetic proceedings to renovate the command.
It was possible to secure sufficient vegetable food for a few thousand men, and the death-rate fell considerably during December.
Hospital sheds were built, and though a small number of prisoners was returned after General Sherman
had passed, conditions were never so horrible.
Camp Lawton, at Millen, Georgia
, had been planned by General Winder
early in the summer of 1864, after he had seen that the number of prisoners sent to Andersonville
would exceed the capacity of that prison.
The prison was larger than Andersonville
; the stream of water was stronger, and better hospital accommodation was planned.
It was a stockade resembling that at Andersonville
, but was square, and contained about forty-two acres. The interior was laid off by streets into thirty-two divisions, each of which in turn was subdivided into ten parts.
The branches of the trees used in making the stockade were left on the ground, and the prisoners were able to make huts of them.
The question of shelter was never serious here.
Forest hall military prison, at Georgetown
This was one of the military prisons utilized by the provost-marshal.
The activities of these officials first brought to the consciousness of the non-combatant citizen the fact that a state of war actually existed.
As a result of the widespread suspicion and broadcast accusations that persons not in sympathy with the Federal Government were spies, the arrest of hundreds in and about Washington and in the other larger cities of the Union States was ordered without warrants on a simple order from the State or War Department, but chiefly the former.
President Lincoln had claimed the right to suspend the writ of habeas corpus. Commanders of such prisons as the above were instructed to refuse to allow themselves to be served with writs; or either to decline to appear or to appear and courteously refuse to carry out the instruction of the court.|
About ten thousand prisoners from Savannah
were sent here early in November, 1864.
On the whole, the food supply was better here than at Andersonville
, or at least more fresh meat was served, but many of these men had been a long time in prison.
Surgeon Isaiah H. White
, in appealing for money for his hospital, says, ‘Humanity and the fame of the Government
demand that the extreme suffering among the prisoners be alleviated.’
The reply to his appeal was simply that there was no money in the Confederate
treasury for any purpose.
With the approach of Sherman
's army, the safekeeping of the prisoners was endangered.
Before the 25th of November the prisoners had left Camp Lawton, and during the remainder of the war it was not occupied by any considerable number.
A part of the Andersonville prisoners were sent to Charleston
, and these, together with some previously confined in that city, were removed to Florence, South Carolina
Before a stockade was erected they were restrained in an open field with such an inefficient guard that many escaped.
The report of General Hardee
's inspecting officer, October 12, 1864, says that three-fourths were without blankets, and many almost without clothing.
The hospitals were of boughs of trees, and only one medical officer
was on duty.
There was no longer a pretense of issuing meat, but, instead, sorghum molasses was substituted, and even this was not always forthcoming.
The stockade was built from the trunks of trees set about five feet into the ground, enclosing about twenty-three acres sloping down from each end to a stream in the center.
When the stockade was built a number of trees were left inside, but the prisoners soon cut these down for fuel and for shelter, and then dug out the stumps and even the roots.
was also furnished.
Various officers commanded during the few months it was open, and there was considerable conflict of authority until General Winder
was placed in charge of all prisons east of the Mississippi
Lieutenant-Colonel John F. Iverson
held command of the prison, and his kindness and humanity have
A Confederate prison in Petersburg, April, 1865
This prison in Petersburg was known as ‘Castle Thunder.’
When this photograph was taken, in April, 1865, for many months Confederate sentries had been pacing up and down where the Union sentry now stands with his gun at ‘support arms.’
For months a succession of Union prisoners had gazed out longingly through the bars, listening to the Union guns which day after day roared out the approaching doom of the Confederacy.
The investment of Petersburg was the last great task demanded of the Army of the Potomac.
During the night of April 2d, Lee retreated from Petersburg and Richmond, and a week later he surrendered at Appomattox.
On the following page are some views of the interior courtyards of this great tobacco warehouse converted into a prison, where the incessant sound of the surge and thunder of battle and the increasing scarcity of food were the only indications to the prisoners of the fortunes of the armies.|
been praised by some of his charges, and the adjutant, Lieutenant Cheatham
, was also liked by the prisoners.
The medical staff seems to have been unusually efficient, though as the prisoners sent to this place had been long in captivity, the mortality rate was heavy.
An abandoned cotton-factory at Salisbury, North Carolina
, was purchased for prison purposes by the Confederate Government, November 2, 1861.
From the beginning it was designed to contain Confederates under sentence of court martial, disloyal citizens, and deserters suspected of being spies, as well as prisoners of war.
The first prisoners of war reached the town on December 12, 1861, and were the object of much curiosity to the people from the town and country around, many of whom had never seen ‘ a real live Yankee ’ before.
Other prisoners of war soon arrived, and during the month of March, 1862, they numbered nearly fifteen hundred.
At this time, conditions were exceedingly favorable.
Food was abundant, quarters were ample, weather was pleasant, and the prisoners frequently engaged in athletic sports.
According to the report of the surgeon, only one died during the month of March, and the report for the quarter ending in April is also marvelous.
The favorable conditions lasted through 1863.
During the early months of 1864, the capacity of the prison began to be reached, but additions to the number were constantly made.
During the month of October, about ten thousand arrived.
Some of these were desperate men who had long been in prison.
Cases of robbery, and even murder, among the prisoners were not uncommon, according to Junius Henri Browne
and other prisoners there.
For a considerable time the shelter remained inadequate, though an insufficient supply of old tents was finally provided.
Those prisoners who could not be furnished with shelter burrowed in the earth or else built little mud huts, partly above and partly below the surface of the ground.
set to work to build frame barracks which would be adequate to shelter the multitude, but General Winder
, after inspection, pronounced the place unfit for a prison and declared that the prisoners should shortly be moved.
All work was thereupon suspended, though the prisoners were not moved, and the greatest suffering occurred after this time.
An organization and a tributary territory sufficient for two thousand prisoners failed utterly when ten thousand were confined.
The food supply became scanty in spite of the energetic commissary.
With the necessity of providing thirteen thousand rations every day, the commissary very often did not have one day's rations on hand.
were impressed and forced to grind wheat and corn, and agents to secure provisions were also sent.
Rain or shine, hot or cold, Major Myers
might have been seen seeking for supplies, but in spite of all his efforts, days upon which no meat could be procured became more frequent.
The hospital was badly placed and poorly supplied.
It was too small, and hundreds of prisoners died in their quarters.
Sometimes, where one lived alone in a burrow, his body might not be discovered for several days.
Probably the quartermaster, Captain Goodman
, was inefficient.
He might have been able to procure a larger supply of straw for the bunks, and probably could have furnished a larger quantity of wood than he actually did. As a result of these deficiencies, whether arising from necessity or inefficiency, conditions in the prison were bad and constantly grew worse.
Prisoners ate with avidity acorns from the great oaks in the yard, for want of better food.
The soil was a stiff, red clay, which under the rain and the tramp of thousands of feet became tenacious mortar.
The mortality was fearful, as from October, 1864, to February, 1865, inclusive, there were 3419 deaths.
The burial place near by was an abandoned field in which long pits about four feet deep, six feet wide, and sixty yards long were dug. No coffins could be furnished, as it was impossible to secure enough lumber for the ordinary needs of
the prisoners, and so great was the scarcity of clothes that the living were often allowed to take the garments of their dead companions.
The place of burial to-day is a national cemetery.
As at all the prisons, North and South, attempts were made to induce prisoners to desert their flag.
About eighteen hundred of these ‘galvanized Yankees’ were enlisted, but were not worth the pains or the money they cost.
The enlistment of ‘ galvanized Rebs ’ in various Northern prisons was no more successful.
Men who would desert once would desert again.
The guards for the greater part of the time were the State Junior
and Senior Reserves, that is to say, boys under seventeen and men over forty-five, and later fifty, as all between those ages were supposed to be in the army.
Some of the boys were almost infants and could hardly carry their heavy guns.
Finally, in February, 1865, the commandant, Major Gee
, was notified to send his prisoners to Wilmington
As it was impossible to procure transportation for all, those who were able started to march.
Of twenty-eight hundred who began the journey only about eighteen hundred reached the point of destination in a body.
Some fell by the wayside and died.
Others were sheltered by the kindness of people along the road until they were able to move again.
After this time about five hundred prisoners were confined for a time, but were hastily removed to Charlotte
to escape Stoneman
was taken by that officer, he confined his prisoners in the same stockade which had held the Federal
captives, and when he left the town, he burned the stockade and everything that was within it. After the collapse of the Confederacy
, Major Gee
was tried by a military commission similar to that which tried Wirz
, on the charge of cruelty and conspiracy, but after a careful investigation the commission found a verdict of not guilty, declaring that he was censurable only because he remained in command after it had appeared that the simplest dictates of humanity could not be carried out.
Libby prison after the war—ruins in the foreground
This photograph was taken in April, 1865, after the city had passed into the hands of the Federals.
The near-by buildings had been destroyed, and the foreground is strewn with debris and bricks.
The prison was purchased as a speculation some time after the war and transported to Chicago.
The enterprise, like every other monument of bitterness, failed and has since been destroyed.
While it was still standing, among its exhibits were some ghastly drawings of the horrors of Andersonville, under the charge of an old soldier whose duty it was to dilate upon them.
One day his account of the unspeakable misery there so inflamed the mind of a young man belonging to the generation after the war that he broke into cursing and reviling of the Confederacy.
The Union veteran listened quietly for a moment, and then said: ‘That's all over now, and both sides are glad of it. If the truth were known, I guess we did pretty nearly as bad in some of our prisons, especially considering our superior resources.
Just stow away that cussing, young man. If there's any cussing to be done, we old soldiers will do it-and we don't want to.’
Happily, the above furnishes no hint of the dark side of war.|
Libby prison after the tables were turned Confederate prisoners confined in the Southern stronghold
In this dramatic record by the camera of April, 1865, appear Confederate captives pressing their faces against the bars through which one hundred and twenty-five thousand Federal prisoners had gazed from the inside during the war. Union sentinels are guarding the prison.
Major Thomas P. Turner, who had been commandant of the prison, though a subordinate, Richard Turner, had more direct authority, was confined here at this time.
Strenuous efforts were made to secure evidence on which to prefer charges against
him. The attempts proved unsuccessful and he was released.
During the war this building was occupied almost entirely as a prison for Federal officers.
The privates were confined elsewhere in the city, or in Belle Isle in the James River.
After the war a quartermaster, Major Morfit, in whose charge money had been placed, was examined by a military commission, but his accounts were found correct, and he was exonerated from all blame.
The group of men gathered on the outside are mostly Union soldiers.|
The two most important prisons west of the Mississippi
were Camp Ford, near Tyler
, and Camp Groce, near Hempstead, Texas
The former was at first a Camp on a beautiful hill covered with trees, though a stockade was built later.
Both officers and men were confined here, and there seemed to have been, during 1863 and the early part of 1864, comparatively few hardships.
The prisoners built log huts around which some of them planted vines and flowers.
Lieutenant-Colonel A. J. H. Duganne
tells of paying two prisoners, experienced in such work, one hundred dollars in Confederate money for the construction of a hut ten by twelve feet with a stone fireplace and a clay chimney.
The supply of wood was abundant, the water was excellent, bathing arrangements were ample, and the food, though confined to a few articles, was good.
There was an abundance of fresh beef and corn-meal
, and farmers in the neighborhood were allowed to sell any of their produce, though there was no regular sutler.
The prisoners seem to have been allowed to keep and to receive money in any quantity.
There was so little sickness that there seems to have been no need for a hospital.
A newspaper written by hand was published by the prisoners, and concerts were given frequently.
In the spring of 1864, many of the inmates planted gardens, but about this time a great influx of prisoners from the Red River
operations overcrowded the prison and the horticultural hopes were dissipated.
This great increase in the number of prisoners brought disease from overcrowding, and a hospital was built.
By this time there were no trees within the prison or near by, and many of the men burrowed in the earth.
The ration was reduced to corn-meal
, and conditions became similar to those in the Eastern
The last prison to be considered, Camp Groce, near Hempstead
, was at first a Camp in an open field enclosed by guard lines.
The number of Federal prisoners of war confined here was comparatively small, and little information regarding it is to be found in the ‘ Official Records