Civil War Prisons Essay

1180 words - 5 pages

The Prisons and Treatment of POWs During the Civil War.For years it has been widely accepted by many groups of historians that prisons in the South, during the Civil War, were in a destitute state as compared to those in the North. What might not be taken into consideration is that in the final years of the conflict the South had become seriously dilapidated by Grant¡¯s idea of ¡°total war¡± and by the blockade of all the Southern ports. The North, however, had no excuse for the poor treatment of Confederate POWs. The Union had a considerable amount of money, as compared to the South, which was deeply in debt. Federal troops had more food, more medical supplies, and more manpower to help care for the prisoners. Never the less, each side had deplorable conditions in their prisoner of war camps.Southern Prisons Richmond Virginia the capital of the Confederate States of America was also the distribution center for the Confederate prison system. Until the battle of First Manassas many captured Union Soldiers were exchanged or paroled on the field. But with the first true battle of the Civil war brought 1,300 Union POW¡¯s to the Confederate Capital. This caused an immediate problem, which called for immediate action. Jefferson Davis called for a state of martial law, within three weeks of Davis¡¯s declaration; Richmond¡¯s Provost Marshal Brigadier General John H. Winder took control of the John L. Ligon and Sons Tobacco Factory to be converted into the three story Ligon Military Prison. Many of the buildings that were commandeered for use as prisons were nothing more than plain warehouses with nothing inside for use as heating or toilet facilities. All of the men were forced to sleep on the floor due to lack of beds or material.Libby Prison was brought into operation in 1862 and it was the only converted prison to have running water but on the other hand the water was drawn from a nearby river so the quality of the water was almost intolerable. Libby was the Richmond prison for commissioned officers while its counterpart Belle Isle was for enlisted men.Belle Isle was commissioned around the same time as Libby for the same reason, the city was running out of space to hold its POW¡¯s. Belle Isle was an island southwest of Libby prison and was established to detain Federal enlisted troops. There was only one way off the island to the mainland and that was a narrow bridge that was easily guarded and was very close to the local railroad stations. Yet in its final years in operation the guards wouldn¡¯t let the prisoners venture to the ¡°sink¡± after lights out for security reasons a practice which was established in Yankeeprisons this in turn led to some very unsanitary conditions. Prisoners were forced to answer the call of nature wherever possible that led to a horrible stench that citizen of Richmond complained of. So by 1864 the prison was...

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