American Civil War Prisoners of War and Union and Confederate Prisons: Homepage
Civil War: Union and Confederate Prisons and Prisoners of War: An Introduction
|Civil War Prisoner of War
|Library of Congress
the treatment of the Prisoner of War: “For the Northern side there is no excuse; for the Southern side there is one--and
but one. The Union prisoners were starved, as I have said before, because we were starving ourselves; our children were crying
for bread, and our Confederate soldiers were fighting on half-rations of parched corn and peas. The North had plenty of food,
clothing, and provisions, but they intentionally withheld every provision from the Confederate prisoner… And it was
done with calculated cruelty that has gone unmatched in any civilized society.”
reflect that the U.S. Government exchanged and paroled 329,963 "Rebels" and the Confederacy exchanged and paroled 152,015
"Federals." Once Total War was implemented, however, the exchanges halted abruptly; the North recognized that the paroled,
or exchanged, prisoners were being recycled into the Confederate army. While the North had no shortage of troops, the South,
however, could not afford to lose a single soldier. It was now simply a war of attrition, but, on the other hand, although
it favored the Union on the battlefield, it had strong ramifications for the Federal prisoners.
in his Memoirs, discusses why the Federal government, as late as 1863, paroled the enemy during the Civil War. On
the Confederate capitulation at Vicksburg, Grant wrote: "The enemy surrendered this morning. The only terms allowed is their
parole as prisoners of war. This I regard as a great advantage to us at this moment. It saves, probably, several days in the
capture, and leaves troops and transports ready for immediate service. Sherman, with a large force, moves immediately on Johnston,
to drive him from the State. I will send troops to the relief of Banks, and return the 9th army corps to Burnside."
Vicksburg, 31,600 prisoners were surrendered, with 172 cannon, approximately 60,000 muskets, and a large amount of ammunition.
Whole regiments were captured and paroled at Vicksburg, and most of the paroled Confederates simply reformed or mustered into
their prior (paroled) units and then returned to battle.
attitude of United States Secretary of War Stanton and of General Grant that no exchange so long as the North held the excess
of prisoners was a necessity of war is best seen in their own communications on the subject. On August 8, 1864, Grant sent
the following telegram to General Butler: "On the subject of exchange of prisoners, however, I differ with General Hitchcock.
It is hard on our men held in Southern prisons not to release them, but it is humanity to those left in the ranks to fight
our battles. To commence a system of exchange now, which liberates all prisoners taken, we will have to fight on until the
whole South is exterminated. If we hold those already caught, they amount to no more than so many dead men. At this particular
time to release Rebel prisoners would insure Sherman's defeat and compromise our safety here."
|Union Camp Chase Prison
|Confederate graves at Camp Chase Cemetery
Grant states in his Memoirs that "the exchanged Confederate was equal on the defensive to
three Union soldiers attacking." In other words, an exchanged Confederate soldier would divert and engage three Union soldiers.
Grant simply did not want to allow and permit the South that luxury.
Stanton's words are well known: "We will not exchange able bodied men for
skeletons. We do not propose to reenforce the Rebel army by exchanging prisoners."
In a letter from Washington September
30, 1864, H. W. Halleck, major general and chief of staff, says to Major General Foster, in charge of exchange of prisoners
at Hilton Head, S C.: "Hereafter no exchange of prisoners shall be entertained except on the field when captured."
General Grant in a telegram August 21, 1864, to Secretary Stanton says: "Please
inform General Foster that under no circumstances will he be authorized to make an exchange of prisoners of war. Exchange
simply reenforces the enemy at once, while we do not get the benefit for two or three months, and lose the majority entirely.
I telegraph this from just hearing that some five or six hundred prisoners have been sent to General Foster."
|Confederate Andersonville Prison
|Photo, dated August 17, 1864
|Civil War Prisoners
|Civil War POWs
"General Grant is a great general. I know him well. He stood by me
when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk; and now, sir, we stand by each other always." Words of General William
Tecumseh Sherman in 1864 regarding his successful March to the Sea
On one occasion, when General Ould had effected arrangements with General
Butler for an exchange at Fortress Monroe, Grant's order that no able bodied man should be exchanged without his consent came
into effect. (General Butler stated on the floor of Congress that after he had arranged with the Confederate authorities for
an exchange of prisoners on his own terms, the whole plan was defeated by the intercession of Mr. Stanton and General Grant.
They claimed that by such an exchange Lee would get thirty thousand fresh troops, and that Grant's position at Petersburg
would be endangered and the war prolonged.) A little later Grant telegraphed to Butler to take all the sick and wounded the
Confederates would send him, but to return no more in exchange therefor.
At one time President Davis ordered General Lee to go under a flag of truce
to Grant and ask in the name of humanity that exchange of prisoners be granted, showing him how proper care of the captives
was beyond control of the South. Grant did not allow the interview, and treated everything with a deaf ear. On Lee's testimony
before the Congressional Reconstruction Committee he said: "I made several efforts to exchange the prisoners after the cartel
was suspended." When his attempts at exchange had met only with failure, General Lee reported to President Davis: "We have
done everything in our power to mitigate the suffering of prisoners, and there is no just cause for a sense of further responsibility
on our part."
|Confederate Prisoner of War Camp Libby
|Libby Prison in April 1865
|Union Prisoner of War Camp Elmira
|Confederate monument at Woodlawn National Cemetery in Elmira
Union prisoners died at the Confederate's Andersonville Prison, Georgia, because of starvation, malnutrition, diarrhea, and
disease. Meanwhile, Prisoner of War Camp Douglas in Chicago was considered the “Andersonville of the North,”
because of similar conditions that resulted in nearly 6,000 Confederate deaths.
|Civil War Prisoner
|American Civil War POW
Regarding prisoner exchange, during Union General Stoneman's Raid in North
Carolina in 1865, General Gillem, commanding the cavalry division, appropriated and sacked the house
of Mr. Albert Hagler. Gillem, furthermore, was especially impertinent to Mrs. Hagler, an accomplished young lady, though she
parried his attacks with the civility of a lady. On one occasion he said to her rudely, "I know you are a rebel from the way
you move--an't you a rebel?" She replied, "General Gillem, did you ever hear the story of the tailor's wife and the scissors?" "Yes." "Then I am a rebel as high as I can reach." Coarseness, however, can not always be met playfully, and Mrs. Hagler
incurred his anger to its fullest extent when, in reply to his violent denunciation of the Confederates for starving their
prisoners, she ventured to suggest that the Federal authorities might have saved all this suffering had they agreed to [prisoner]
exchange and take them North, where provisions were plenty. The General's reply to this was the giving
his men tacit license to plunder and destroy the houses of Mrs. Howard.'s daughter (Mrs. Hartley) and niece (Mrs. Clark),
who both lived near her. No houses in the place suffered more severely than theirs. The house of her daughter, Mrs. Hartley,
was pillaged from top to bottom. Barrels of sorghum were broken and poured over the wheat in the granary, and over the floors
of the house. Furniture and crockery were smashed, and what was not broken up was defiled in a manner so disgusting as to
be unfit for use. Mrs. Clark, the niece, was driven out of her house by the brutality of her plunderers. Continued below...
(Sources listed at bottom of page.)
Reading: Portals to Hell: Military Prisons of the Civil War. Description: The military prisons of the Civil War, which held more than four hundred
thousand soldiers and caused the deaths of fifty-six thousand men, have been nearly forgotten. Lonnie R. Speer has now brought
to life the least-known men in the great struggle between the Union and the Confederacy, using their own words and observations as they endured a true
“hell on earth.” Continued below...
Drawing on scores of previously unpublished firsthand accounts, Portals to Hell presents the prisoners’
experiences in great detail and from an impartial perspective. The first comprehensive study of all major prisons of both
the North and the South, this chronicle analyzes the many complexities of the relationships among prisoners, guards, commandants,
and government leaders. It is available in paperback and hardcover.
Recommended Reading: So Far from Dixie: Confederates in Yankee Prisons (Hardcover) (312 pages). Description: This book is the gripping history of five men who were sent to
New York's infamous POW camp, and survived to document their stories. You will
hear and even envision the most stirring and gripping true stories of each soldier that lived and survived the most
horrible nightmares of the conflict while tortured and even starved as "THE PRISONER OF WAR."
Die in Chicago: Confederate Prisoners at Camp Douglas 1862-65 (Hardcover) (446 pages). Description: The author’s research is exacting, methodical, and painstaking. He brought zero bias to the enterprise and the
result is a stunning achievement that is both scholarly and readable. Douglas, the "accidental" prison camp, began as a training
camp for Illinois volunteers. Donalson and Island #10 changed that.
The long war that no one expected… combined with inclement weather – freezing temperatures - primitive medical
care and the barbarity of the captors created in the author’s own words "a death camp." Stanton's and Grant's policy
of halting the prisoner exchange behind the pretense of Fort
Pillow accelerated the suffering. Continued below...
In the latest
edition, Levy found the long lost hospital records at the National Archives which prove conclusively that casualties were
deliberately “under reported.” Prisoners were tortured, brutality was tolerated and corruption was widespread.
The handling of the dead rivals stories of Nazi Germany. The largest mass grave in the Western Hemisphere is filled with....the
bodies of Camp Douglas dead, 4200 known and 1800 unknown.
No one should be allowed to speak of Andersonville until they have absorbed the horror of Douglas, also known as “To
Die in Chicago.”
Recommended Reading: The True Story of Andersonville Prison: A Defense of Major Henry Wirz. Description: During the Civil War, James Madison Page was a prisoner in different places in the South.
Seven months of that time was spent at Andersonville.
While at that prison, he became well acquainted with Major Wirz – who had previously held the rank of captain. Page
takes the stand and states that "Captain Wirz was unjustly held responsible for the hardship and mortality of Andersonville."
It was his belief that both Federal and Confederate authorities must share culpability. Why? Continued below...
Because the Union knew the inability of the Confederacy to meet
the reasonable wants of its prisoners of war, as it lacked supplies for its own needs – particularly for its
Confederate soldiers - and since the Federal authorities failed to exercise a humane policy in the exchange of those captured
in battle... that policy was commonly referred to as prisoner exchange. The writer, "with malice toward none and charity for all", denies conscious prejudice, and makes the sincere
endeavor to put himself in the other fellow's place and make such a statement of the matter in hand as will satisfy all lovers
of truth and justice.
Viewing: Secrets of the Civil War (A&E) (DVD) (593 minutes).
Description: Nearly a century and half have passed since Lee surrendered at Appomattox, but the words and images created during the
Civil War still bring home the impact of the bloodiest conflict seen on American shores. Continued below…
Now, HISTORY reveals the lesser
known aspects of the civil war in 9 compelling documentaries: Tales of the Gun: Guns of the Civil War, The Lost Battle of
the Civil War, The Most Daring Mission of the Civil War, April 1865, Battlefield Detectives: The Civil War: Antietam, Battlefield
Detectives: The Civil War: Gettysburg, Battlefield Detectives: The Civil War: Shiloh, Secret Missions of the Civil War, and
Eighty Acres of Hell (aka "Douglas Prisoner of War Camp" in Chicago and "The Andersonville
of the North”). Also, with nearly 10 hours of Civil War history, this is welcome addition to school and local libraries,
as well as the Civil War buff.
Reading: This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American
Civil War. Publishers Weekly: Battle
is the dramatic centerpiece of Civil War history; this penetrating study looks instead at the somber aftermath. Historian
Faust (Mothers of Invention) notes that the Civil War introduced America
to death on an unprecedented scale and of an unnatural kind—grisly, random and often ending in an unmarked grave far
from home. Continued below...
She surveys the many ways the Civil War generation coped with the trauma: the concept of the Good Death—conscious,
composed and at peace with God; the rise of the embalming industry; the sad attempts of the bereaved to get confirmation of
a soldier's death, sometimes years after war's end; the swelling national movement to recover soldiers' remains and give them
decent burials; the intellectual quest to find meaning—or its absence—in the war's carnage. In the process, she
contends, the nation invented the modern culture of reverence for military death and used the fallen to elaborate its new
concern for individual rights. Faust exhumes a wealth of material—condolence letters, funeral sermons, ads for mourning
dresses, poems and stories from Civil War–era writers—to flesh out her lucid account. The result is an insightful,
often moving portrait of a people torn by grief.
Civil War Terror (History Channel) (DVD). Description: This is the largely
untold story of a war waged by secret agents and spies on both sides of the Mason Dixon Line. These are tales of hidden conspiracies
of terror that specifically targeted the civilian populations. Engineers of chemical weapons, new-fangled explosives and biological
warfare competed to topple their enemy. Continued below…
With insight from Civil War authorities,
we debunk the long-held image of a romantic and gentlemanly war. To revisit the past, we incorporate written sources, archival
photographs and newspaper headlines. Our reenactments bring to life key moments in our historical characters' lives and in
each of the horrific terrorist plots.
Recommended Viewing: The Civil War - A Film by Ken Burns. Review: The
Civil War - A Film by Ken Burns is the most successful public-television miniseries in American history. The 11-hour Civil War didn't just captivate a nation,
reteaching to us our history in narrative terms; it actually also invented a new film language taken from its creator. When
people describe documentaries using the "Ken Burns approach," its style is understood: voice-over narrators reading letters
and documents dramatically and stating the writer's name at their conclusion, fresh live footage of places juxtaposed with
still images (photographs, paintings, maps, prints), anecdotal interviews, and romantic musical scores taken from the era
he depicts. Continued below...
The Civil War uses all of these devices to evoke atmosphere and resurrect an event that many knew
only from stale history books. While Burns is a historian, a researcher, and a documentarian, he's above all a gifted storyteller,
and it's his narrative powers that give this chronicle its beauty, overwhelming emotion, and devastating horror. Using the
words of old letters, eloquently read by a variety of celebrities, the stories of historians like Shelby Foote and rare, stained
photos, Burns allows us not only to relearn and finally understand our history, but also to feel and experience it. "Hailed
as a film masterpiece and landmark in historical storytelling." "[S]hould be a requirement for every
Exchange of Civil War Prisoners, by John Broadus Mitchell, 342 Confederate Veteran July 1911; Personal Memoirs of Ulysses
S. Grant; Cornelia Phillips Spencer, The Last Ninety Days of the War in North Carolina (1866); History Channel (A&E Networks);
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.