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Castle Thunder in Richmond—the chief provost prison in the South

This ancient tobacco-factory, with the platform for drying the leaf suspended in front, and the bedding hanging from an unbarred window, looked far from warlike as its picture was taken in 1865. Aside from the soldiers, there is no indication that this was the penitentiary of the Confederacy. In it were confined Confederates under sentence of military court, deserters, and only rarely Union soldiers. The commander, Captain G. W. Alexander, was a disabled soldier, a man of great vigor and determination. He enforced discipline, but his motley crew sometimes required vigorous measures. The management of the prison was investigated in 1863 by a committee of the Confederate Congress. The majority of the committee acquitted Captain Alexander, though two minority reports were submitted. The most difficult prisoners with whom he had to deal were said to be ‘plug-uglies,’ of Baltimore and the ‘wharf-rats’ of New Orleans. Among his charges were many who thought nothing of murdering. Arbitrary arrests were less frequent in the South than in the North. President Davis did not assume the right to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, and this privilege was grudgingly granted him by the Confederate Congress for only limited periods. The larger number of arrests were made at first under what was known as the ‘Alien Enemies Act,’ approved by the President August 8, 1861. On August 30th a commission was appointed on the suggestion of General J. H. Winder, who wrote to the Secretary of War that he believed that many of the prisoners who had been arrested should be discharged. A general jail delivery followed. The jealousy of arbitrary power common to the Southerner was shown by the attitude of the Confederate Congress, the Governors, and Legislatures, who viewed with alarm any curtailment of the power of the courts. Military officers were instructed to obey the writ of habeas corpus and, if the judge ordered the discharge of the prisoner, to obey. Afterward, they might then appeal to the Confederate district judge.

Castle thunder in Richmond—the chief provost prison in the South

Photographer and prison


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