The Prisons of the Civil War Overview
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 tents were pitched, as at Point Lookout, Maryland, and on Belle Isle in the James River; sixth, open stockades in which men were placed to secure shelter as best they might. Andersonville is the best known of such prison enclosures.
The fortifications, so far as enlisted men were concerned, were not important. Private soldiers were sent during 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 (later Brigadier-General) 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, Baltimore, 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.
Fort Delaware, 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" 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 as this.
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 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.
Richmond 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. The floors 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, Lynchburg, Shreveport, 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 Gary 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, Danville, 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 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 was building. After-ward 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 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." Colonel Hoffman 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. Colonel Hoffman 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 was neglected.
Camp Morton, at Indianapolis, was originally the State Fair Ground, which had been used during the fall and winter of 1861 and 1862 as barracks for a few Indiana troops. The camp was turned into a prison to accommodate those captured in Forts Henry and Donelson, 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 of prisoners. 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.
Camp Douglas, 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" indicate.
Camp Chase, at Columbus, Ohio, was another instruction camp turned into a prison to accommodate the prisoners captured at Forts Henry and Donelson, 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. Conditions 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, Point Lookout in Maryland, 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 arid 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.
Belle Isle 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, Charleston, Florence, 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 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 twenty-seven 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 installment 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." Winder was placed in charge of this prison and also of the officers' 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 and Mississippi 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 agents. 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.
General Winder, 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. Captain Wirz made requisitions for hoes, 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; cornmeal, 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 cornmeal 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. . . . glasses 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 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 and Charleston 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 Milien, 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.
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. Wood 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 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 bur-rowed in the earth or else built little mud huts, partly above and partly below the surface of the ground. The quartermaster 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 . 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. Mills 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 for exchange. 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's cavalry. When Salisbury 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.
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 cornmeal, 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 cornmeal, and conditions became similar to those in the Eastern stockades. 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."
Source: "The Photographic History of The Civil War", Volume 4, Soldier Life and Secret Service, Prisons and Hospitals. Article by Holland Thompson
Note: The word "Overview" was not in the title of the original article. It was added to provide the Internet user a quicker way to identify what was about to be read.
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