CIVIL WAR MILITARY PRISONS & P.O.W. CAMPS
There existed more than 150 military prisons, stockades, camps,
and pens on both sides during the War; very little is known of
life and conditions in most of them. Adj. Gen. F.C. Ainsworth
estimated to James Ford Rhodes in 1903 that 193,750 Northerners &
215,000 Southerners were captured and confined. More than 30,000
Union and 26,000 Confederate prisoners died in captivity (which
equals 12% in the North and 15.5% in the South). Rhodes commented
that there *should* have been a *much* greater disparity, in
favor of the North, given the superior physicians, hospitals,
medicines, and food supply in the North....
See NARA, "Selected Records of the War Department Relating to Confederate Prisoners of War, 1861-1865." (M598, 145 rolls) [dates given below are those for which at least *some* records are available on film] No comparable CSA records exist, which makes compilation of data extremely difficult for the South.
United States of America (USA)
|Alton, IL.||(IL)||1861-1865||Military Prison, First Illinois state prison, built in the 1850s and denounced by Dorothea Dix as unhygienic. Abandoned as soon as Joliet was completed. Alton opened as a "military detention camp" early in 1862. Severe overcrowding and bad sanitation brought on a smallpox epidemic which killed as many as a dozen Southern prisoners a day. Alton citizens demanded that the sick be removed as a health danger and they were taken to a deserted island in the Mississippi. Several thousand Southern prisoners were buried on the island 1863-64 (an estimate; no records were kept) and many more were buried in Confederate Soldiers' Cemetery in North Alton. There were continual escape attempts. In July 1862, 36 prisoners led by Col. Ebenezer Magoffin of Missouri cut a tunnel through 8 ft of masonry, 50 ft underground, and 3 ft of limestone foundation, and escaped; only 8 were recaptured. The prison was completely demolished shortly after the War.||Butler, Camp||(IL)||1862-1863||Military Prison,||Chase, Camp||(OH)||1861-1865||Military Prison, Training camp west of Columbus, converted to a prison camp. About 8,000 prisoners in mid-1863. One captive officer described the place as being so filthy that no self-respecting Tennessee farmer would house his pigs there.||Delaware, Fort||(DE)||1862-1965||Military Prison. Located on "Pea Patch" island in the Delaware River, in Delaware, was perhaps the prison most feared by Confederate troops, whose minds were "continually engrossed with anger against those who starve us." ||Douglas, Camp||(IL)||1862-1865|| Military Prison, near Chicago., IL.
First Federal training camp (built on property that belonged to Sen Stephen A. Douglas, who was also a property speculator); established south of Chicago, 60 acres in area, converted to a prison camp after the fall of Ft. Donelson in Feb 1862. One-story wooden barracks for 125-150 men each. Post hospital for Union troops serving as guards and tent wards for the prisoners. A large fire destroyed many of the barracks Nov 1863 and some prisoners were transferred to Rock Island. Total of about 30,000 prisoners; high point was Dec 1864, with more than 12,000 names on the roll. At least 4,450 of whom died (a death rate of 9%). Most are buried in the "Confederate Mound" in Oakwood Cemetery, Chicago. About 500 successful escapes. Dismantled Nov 1865.
|Elmira, Prison||(NY)||1864-1865||Military Prison, Created in May 1864 as a transfer depot by enclosing a 30 A. site with existing barracks on the Chemung River near Elmira, and was known in the South as "Hell-mira." There were 35 barracks (two- story, low-ceilinged, with unsealed roofs and floors) which held only half the 10,000 prisoners (enlisted men only); the rest lived in tents or slept in the open, even in the worst winter weather. Clothing and supplies sent from the South was warehoused by the Commandant and not distributed for up to six months; food *donated* by local churches was *sold* to the prisoners by corrupt Union officers. Many prisoners were transferred there from Point Lookout, MD. Broiled rat was regarded as a delicacy and any dog that wandered within reach was quickly slaughtered and consumed (a punishable offense). One-acre lagoon of stagnant river water within the compound served as a latrine and dump, and led to large epidemics. Most guard detachments were recruited ex- slaves. More than 10% had no blankets; food was scarce and usually spoiled. Scurvy was common. The Commandant refused to "waste" medicines on prisoners and also barred Sanitary Commission inspectors from entering the stockade. One doctor boasted: "I have killed more Rebs than any soldier at the front." There were few escape attempts because few prisoners were healthy enough to try. Discipline was strict and brutal, even by contemporary military standards; hanging by the thumbs was a popular punishment for infractions of the rules. Erie Railroad train jammed with prisoners collided with a freight 15 July 1864; the more than 100 injured prisoners were dumped into the compound untreated and most died within a few days. Death rate averaged about 5% per month and the rate of illness was extremely high; Elmira's conservatively estimated overall death rate of 24% was the highest of *any* Civil War prison. Townspeople of Elmira built two platforms overlooking the walls where spectators could observe the prisoners for $.15; the customers were mostly well- dressed women. Closed March 1865 (though the last prisoners did not actually leave until September) and all that remains is the cemetery.||Gratiot & Myrtle Streets, Prison||(MO)||1862-1865||St. Louis, MO, Held POWs, Union army deserters, bounty jumpers, bushwhackers, accused spies, and civilians accused of "disloyalty" (who were held without habeas corpus). Originally a medical college, it could safely hold about 500 men but more than 1,000 were confined there at all times. Prisoners set the building on fire twice and many tried to escape by tunneling or by attacking the guards.||Hart Island||(NY)||1864-1864||Prison Camp,||Johnson's Island||(OH)||1862-1865|| Military Prison,
Located in Sandusky Bay, on Lake Erie, Ohio, about 50 miles
East of Toledo, OH. Can be reached by a causeway which was built
several years ago linging the island to the mainland.
Construction was completed Feb 1862. First prisoners (of all types) arrived April 1862; officers were later separated out and sent to the Island, which became virtually an officers' and civilian prison. During its 40 months of operation, at least 12,000 CSA officers were held there -- including Isaac Trimble, Henry Kyd Douglas, Charles Olmstead, John Marmaduke, Jeff Thompson, and Basil Duke. Shelter was 13 two-story barracks intended to hold 3,250 prisoners; by April 1865 there were about 3,000 prisoners. Water supply was adequate at first but drainage was very poor and fresh water finally became almost nonexistent. General health conditions were above average, however, compared to other Federal prisons; a total of 221 men died out of approx. 12,000 total prisoners.
Post commanders were drawn from Sandusky itself and were usually well enough liked. Clothing was adequate but most prisoners were unprepared for the severity of the winter weather. Food rations were adequate and additional supplies could be purchased -- until spring 1864, when rations were sharply reduced and supplemental purchases curtailed, apparently in reaction to atrocity stories circulating in the North rather than to lack of supplies. Since the Island was separated from the mainland by 1/2 mile of water (or ice), there were few escape attempts; only 12 men escaped to Canada, and there was one unsuccessful attempt by Ohio Copperheads to capture and liberate the prison. No trace of the facilities is left today except a one-acre cemetery and the Island has no permanent inhabitants. [REF:#002]
See: Johnson's Island Cemetery
|Knoxville||(TN)||1863-1865||Military Prison,||Lafayette, Fort||(NY)||1861-1865||Military Prison, or Fortification, was used for United States citizen accused of disloyalty, and Confederate Officers.||Louisville||(KY)||1862-1865||Military Prison,||McHenry, Fort||(MD)||1861-1865||Military Prison, Located in Baltimore harbor, was a Hospital facility for both Union and Confederate wounded, a processing center for captured Confederates, and a prison for Northern dissidents and supected spies. Confederate "W. MARSHALL" wrote a letter from Fort McHenery prison about being kept in rat-infested, poorly ventilated stables filled with piles of excrement. He and others Southeren prisoners were quarted near unruly Union deserters; and were fed a diet of salt beef, wormy crackers and green onions. [86.]||McLean Barracks||(OH)||1863-1865||Cincinnati,||Memphis||(TN)||1863-1865||Military Prison,|| Morton, Camp
||(IN)||1862-1865|| Military Prison.
Located on the state fair grounds in Indianapolis; unfloored
barracks within an enclosure. Impossible for the prisoners to
keep clean -- or to keep warm in winter because fuel was
extremely scarce despite the large number of trees in the
enclosure (which prisoners were forbidden to cut). [REF:#002]
Photo: Although Camp Morton, near Indianapolis, IN. is thought to have been the best-run prison camps North or South, more than 1,700 CSA died there during the course of the War. [REF:#004] Pg 337
|Newport News||(VA)||18??-1865||Military Prison, Newport News City.|| Ohio State
|(OH)||1862-1965||Columbus, Ohio, was the site of one of the wars's most sensational escapades, the daring escape of "Rebel Raider" John MORGAN and six others. [88.]||Old Capitol Prison||(DC)||1863-1865||Washington, DC. Temporary building constructed c1815 after the British burned the U.S. Capitol in the War of 1812; later used as a hotel and became dilapidated and dangerously run down. Held POWs, Union deserters, suspected spies, and miscellaneous prisoners awaiting trial.||Point Lookout||(MD)||1863-1865||Military Prison. Large tent camp with no barracks, set up where the Potomac runs into Chesapeake Bay. Established Aug 1863 and held enlisted men only. Water was scarce; the shallow wells became polluted and water had to be imported. Maximum of about 20,000 prisoners.||Rock Island Barracks||(IL)||1863-1865||Military Prison. Union's westernmost POW camp, located on an island in the Mississippi between Rock Island, IL and Davenport, IA. Originally the site of Ft. Armstrong (1816-36); after the War, it became the permanent site of the Rock Island Arsenal. Ordered to be built in July 1863 but still not completed when about 5,000 prisoners arrived in December. From then until the end of the War, there were 5,000 to 8,000 prisoners at all times. High fence enclosed 84 barracks, each with its own cookhouse. Adequate clothing and usually adequate food rations, but water was scarce and occasionally nonexistent. Major outbreaks of smallpox from the beginning; inadequate medical care and no hospital ward. Prisoner labor constructed sewers and a waterworks (for which they were paid a small amount on the sutler's account books). Several small but successful escape attempts in mid-1864. Many prisoners took the Oath in Dec 1863 and were "galvanized" into the Union army to fight Indians; loyal Confederates resisted this by re-enlisting their own men (whose terms of enlistment had expired while they were imprisoned). Conditions deteriorated in late 1864 and local newspapers began editorially comparing Rock Island to Andersonville (two editors who did so were arrested and imprisoned by Federal authorities for disloyalty and sedition). During the 20 months it operated, Rock Island held a total of 12,400 prisoners; 1,960 died in confinement, 41 escaped, 5,580 were paroled home, and approx. 4,000 enlisted in the Union army. About 200 civilian political prisoners from Missouri also were housed there late in the War. Prison barracks were empty by July 1865 and served as ordnance barracks for the Arsenal until 1909. Confederate and National Cemeteries are still maintained there.||Warren, Fort||(MA)||1861-1865||Military Prison. Built on George's Island in the Boston harbor as part of the city's seaward defenses in the early 19th century. Served first as a training base for several Massachusetts regiments -- who complained bitterly about *their* inadequate housing and food. First CSA prisoners arrived in Oct 1861, including Southern political prisoners (who were arrested and held without charges being preferred against them). Overcrowded and undersupplied from the first. Officers had limited parole on the island outside the fort itself. Boston newspapers of both political parties tried to raise food, blankets, etc, for the prisoners; other papers (including Garrison's THE LIBERATOR) argued that "traitors should receive nothing" and should be allowed to starve (this attitude became a local election issue in Boston). Prisoners did their own cooking in large, unsheltered boiling pots and kettles. Enlisted men and political prisoners received much worse housing than officers. Prisoners raised the ire of their jailers by singing Southern patriotic songs (quickly forbidden) and holding a mock trial of Sec. of War Seward (he was found guilty of having "abolished the Constitution"). Confederate generals Buckner and Tilghman were housed there for 6 months until exchanged. Many Ft. Donelson prisoners ended up there, as well as CSA naval personnel. By late 1862, the small rations of bread, soup, and hominy meant that most prisoners were hungry all the time. Only 12 deaths occurred during the War, however, and the prisoners themselves considered their treatment to be relatively humane.|
Confederate States of America (CSA)
Stockade, Sumter Co., GA.
Feb 1864-April 1865 [originally "Camp Sumter"]. Located northeast of Americus; 16.5 acres (later enlarged to 26 acres) with a stream running through it. Log stockade built when it became apparent that the large number of prisoners accumulating in Richmond were both a military hazard and a drain on the local food supply. Held enlisted men only. Rations were the same as those of the typical Southern soldier in the field: cornmeal and beans, and rarely meat. Poor sanitation, overcrowding, exposure, and the inadequate diet resulted in high disease and death rates. About 33,000 prisoners in mid-1864; National Cemetery holds 12,912 graves. Prisoners who were not ill were removed to Charleston in Sept 1864 when Sherman's army approached.
See: Andersonville History See: Andersonville Cemetery
|Belle Isle Prison, VA.|| in the James, Richmond, VA.
90% of the survivors weighed less than 100 pounds. "Can those be men?" asked Walt WHITMAN when he saw several prisoners returned from Belle Isle: "Those little livid brown, ash streaked, monkey-looking dwarfs? -- are they realy mummied, dwindled corpses? They lay there, most of them, quite still, but with a horrible look in their eyes and skinny lips (often with out enough flesh to cover their teeth) .... The deed there aren not to be pitied as much as some of the living that have come from their -- if they can be called living -- many of them are mentally imbecile, and will never recuperate." [REF:#004] pg 336-7
|Cahawba Prison, AL.|| 1864-1865, Dallas Co., AL.
Old cotton warehouse 10 miles south of Selma, only partly covered; intended as only a temporary facility, so no improvements were made. Bunks for 500 men but by Oct 1864 more than 2,000 men were camped within the stockade surrounding the shed. Prisoners cooked their own food and water was plentiful, though sometimes polluted.
|Castle Thunder #1, VA.||Petersburg City, VA., Converted tobacco warehouse. Held Federal POWs who named it for the sound of artillery fire during the long siege.||Castle Thunder, #2 VA.r||Richmond, VA. Converted tobacco warehouse; used mostly for political prisoners, especially spies and those charged with treason (like the Old Capitol Prison in Washington). Developed an unsavory reputation and the officers in command were later charged by the U.S. government with unnecessary cruelty. After the fall of Richmond, the Federals used to hold Southerners charged with war crimes (during which period it held more men than when under CSA jurisdiction).||Charleston, SC.|| Stockade. Charleston Co., SC.
Established in the yard of the fortress-like City Jail. About 600 officers and 300 white and black enlisted men, plus captured deserters from both sides.
|Camp Davidson, GA.|| Savannah, Chatham Co., GA. Stockade.
Standard prison pen adjacent to the city hospital; also contained a number of large oak trees for shade. About 600 prisoners (all officers); very few deaths. Better than average rations and shelter. Prisoners built their own brick ovens. Evacuated mid- Sept 1864 and all prisoners sent to Charleston, SC.
| Camp Ford, TX.
|| 1863-1865, Stockade.
Located about 4 mi northwest of Tyler, Smith Co., TX.;
Established Aug 1863, the largest facility in Texas. Federal prisoners built their own log cabins; food, water, and sanitary conditions were adequate and abundant fresh water flowed through the compound. At first, so little sickness occurred (partly because of mild climate) that there was no regular hospital. Red River campaign in Louisiana, (13 May 1864) brought in so many prisoners the severe overcrowding took place and disease spread; the number of prisoners jumped from fewer than 100 to nearly 5,000 by July 1864, including both officers and enlisted men. Shelter remained generally adequate and prisoner exchanges kept the population numerically under control. Local farmers were allowed to sell produce to prisoners. There were also 2 sutler's stores, managed by officers of the 42nd Massachusetts (prisoners earned money by manufacturing goods to sell to the townspeople). A prisoner-produced newspaper, THE OLD FLAG, hand-printed, was published by subscription (payable in advance). Three major escape attempts occurred but only one was successful: 50 men escaped in late 1864 and nearly all were recaptured -- mostly by Choctaw Confederate troops when escapees tried to cross the Red River into CSA Indian Territory. Prisoner deaths are estimated at 230-280 over 2 years. Last prisoners left 17 May 1865 and the stockade was burned by Federal occupation troops. [REF:#002]
Photo: Men of the 19th IOWA, USA, imprisoned at Camp Ford. [REF:#004] Pg337
|Camp Groce, TX.|| 1863-1865, Stockade.
Located near Hempstead, Waller Co., TX. and consisted of a tent camp in an open field surrounded by guard lines. Almost everything regarding conditions at Camp Ford applies here also, though on a smaller scale.
| Libby Prison, VA.
|| Richmond, Henrico Co., VA.
Riverside three-story warehouse of Libby & Sons, a ships' chandlers company. Held officers only and acquired a notorious reputation in the North; became very crowded only after prisoner exchanges ceased in mid-1863. Inmates were notorious for their lack of cooperation among *themselves*, which made the jailers' work much more difficult, which led to repressive measures. Many complaints by prisoners that Sanitary Commission parcels of supplies ("CARE packages") were redirected or plundered by corrupt CSA prison officials; inmates also complained that they were "being treated like any Negro." Several major escape attempts, most of them successful. Used as only temporary shelter after a series of Federal raids forced the CSA government to move the prisoners to a new facility in Macon, GA in May 1864. After the surrender, Libby became a prison for Confederates and was much more crowded than before. The entire building was moved to Chicago in 1889 to become a War museum; only a few fragments of the walls remain there. [REF:#002]
This converted ships' chandlery in Richmond, VA., 6 dank rooms held 1,300 Union Officers. [REF:#004]
|Camp Lawton, GA.||1864-1865, Stockade. Built during the summer of 1864 near Miller, GA to handle the overflow from Andersonville; square stockade of about 42 acres. About 10,000 prisoners in Nov 1864.||Camp Oglethorpe, GA.|| Macon, Bibb Co., GA., Stockade.
Established at the old fair grounds 1/4 mile from town. About 1,500 prisoners, all officers, in 3 A. plot with high wooden stockade. Ample quarters provided for general and field officers; lower ranks (the majority) lived in the open. Received standard CSA Army field rations: corn meal, a few ounces of fat bacon, black-eyed peas, and a small amount of salt. Authorities were very willing to exchange CSA currency with their prisoners for US greenbacks or specie. Closed late July 1864 because of Sherman's advance.
|Columbia, SC.||Stockade. Richland Co., SC. [CSA]||Florence, SC.||Stockade. Florence Co., SC. [CSA]||Hilton Head, SC.||1864-1865, Prison Camp, Beaufort Co., SC. [CSA]||Little Rock, AR.||1863-1865, Military Prison, CSA] (Much smallpox.)||Castle Pinckney, SC.|| Charleston, Charleston Co., SC. [CSA]
Originally a fort. Held mostly enlisted men but also some officers.
|Salisbury, NC.||Prison [CSA] Rowan Co., NC.|
BOOKS on Civil War PRISONS|
See the following books, which are *lists of names*, not personal narratives or general histories.(If you're not near a largish public or academic library, try Inter-Library Loan.)Others may have been published, but these are the ones I know about: [REF:#002]
|Atwater, Dorence||(comp).Prisoners Who Died at Andersonville Prison ("Atwater List").(Andersonville, GA: National Soc of Andersonville, 1981)|
|Beitzell, Edwin W.||Point Lookout Prison Camp for Confederates.(Abell, MD: The Author, 1972)|
|Halstead, Claude||(ed).Register of Federal Prisoners of War Confined at Danville, Virginia, 1863-1864-1865, and Confederate Soldier Deaths and Effects at the Danville, Virginia Hospital, 1862-1863.(Danville, VA: VA-NC Piedmont Genealogical Soc, 1982)|
|Holmes, Clayton & W. Elmira||Prison Camp.... With an Appendix Containing Names of the Confederate Prisoners Buried in Woodlawn National Cemetery.(NY: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1912)|
|Jones, B.H.||"Memorial of the Federal Prison on Johnson' Island, Lake Erie", ... Containing a List of Prisoners of War, for the Confederate States Army, and of the Deaths Among Them."VIRGINIA HISTORICAL SOCIETY COLLECTIONS (n.s.) 6 (1887): 233-345.|
|Praus, Alexis A.||(comp).Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Who Died as Prisoners of War at Camp Butler, Illinois, 1862- 1865.(Kalamazoo, MI: Edgar Gray Publications, nd [1971?])|
|Source & Reference Notes!||[REF:#001]||Paul R. Sarrett, Jr.||
Sarratt/Sarrett/Surratt Families of America© (SFA)
Dated: Dec. 01, 1996
|[REF:#002]||Michael K. SMITH||
CIVIL WAR MILITARY PRISONS & P.O.W. CAMPS
Dated: Feb. 12, 1995
ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF THE CIVIL WAR
and the causes that led up to the Great Conflict.
|[REF:#004]||Geoffrey C. WARD||
and Ric Burns & Ken Burns
THE CIVIL WAR an Illustrated History
Dated: Sep. 12, 1990
Civil War - Index
WARS - Index
SFA - Index
Source & Ref.