The Prisons of the
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
The fortifications, so far as enlisted men were concerned, were not
important. Private 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 (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 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.
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 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, 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. 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
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 that sanitation 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
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
quartermastergeneral 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 80, 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 8884 prisoners, 887 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 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.
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 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 it prisoners were compelled to perform all the offices of
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 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;
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 Amdersonville. 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 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.
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
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
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
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.
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 shortly be moved. All work was thereupon suspended, though the
prisoners were not moved, and the greatest suffering occurred after this
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
3410 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 be 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 buts 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 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."