ROCK ISLAND PRISON
Rock Island Prison was located on a government owned island between
Davenport, Iowa, and Moline, Illinois. For the past century it was known
as Rock Island Arsenal. The prison camp was constructed in mid-1863 and
received its first prisoners that December. The prison camp was
comprised of 84 prisoner barracks, each being 100 feet long, 22 feet
wide and 12 feet high. A kitchen was built into each barracks. They had
60 double bunks, and each building could house 120 prisoners. Also, over
a period of time other buildings were erected: a laundry, guardhouse,
dead house and dispensary.
The barracks were enclosed by a stockade fence 1,300 feet long, 900
feet wide, and 12 feet high. A boardwalk was constructed on the outside
of the fence, and sentry boxes were placed every 100 feet.
During the 20 months the prison was open, 1,960 prisoners died and
171 Union guards died. The Confederate cemetery was located 1,000 yards
southeast of the prison stockade. Prison guards were buried on a site
about 100 yards northwest of the Confederate cemetery.
August 12, 1864
We had a chance to look around and see what the storm had done for
us. The entire prison, including the swamp, was swept in such a manner
as to be quite clean compared to its former condition. Almost all the
filth and vermon on the ground was swept away. It was soon discovered
that a strong, pure spring of water had burst out. The water was cool
and pure in great contrast to the filthy stuff we had been using.
John W. Urban
The framework of the barracks was completed in September. There were
four barracks that housed 270 prisoners each. When the men started
moving in, two more barracks were nearing completion. They were near the
north end in the new section of the prison. During September 2,677
prisoners died. Between the end of February, when the prison was
established, and September 21, a total of 9,479 prisoners had died, or
23.3 percent of those who had been confined at Andersonville. The death
register listed the greatest killer as diarrhea (3,530 deaths) and
dysentery (999 deaths). The two together accounted for 58.7 percent of
the deaths during the first six months.
Starting in September, some of the healthier prisoners were moved in
detachments from Andersonville to Camp Lawton at Millen, Georgia, and to
Florence, South Carolina. The prisoners were moved not only because of
overcrowded conditions but also due to the movement of Sherman's army
near Atlanta. Some men believed they were part of a general exchange of
prisoners. S.M. Dufur, Co. B, 1st Vermont Cavalry wrote, "We said it can
not be any worse if we are even going to another prison, it will be
change." By September 8, five thousand or more had left. With the exodus
of so many prisoners the sick and dying became more obvious to the
WHEN A.J. RIDDLE TOOK THIS PHOTOGRAPH ON AUGUST 17, 1864, THERE WERE
ALMOST 33,000 PRISONERS CONFINED WITHIN ANDERSONVILLE'S 26-1/2 ACRES.
Father Peter Whelan was born in 1802 in County Wexford, Ireland and
migrated to America while still a young man. He became a priest in the
Catholic Church and spent 19 years at a church in Locust Grove, Georgia.
Early in the Civil War his ministry took him to Fort Pulaski to minister
to the Confederate troops. He was taken prisoner when Fort Pulaski fell
but after a short time was paroled. Father Whelan heard of Andersonville
and the privation that existed there. With the sanction of the church he
made the trip to Andersonville and arrived on June 16, 1864. He stayed
until October, ministering to the prisoners at the risk of his own
health. He borrowed $16,000 in Confederate money and in January 1865
went to Americus and bought ten thousand pounds of wheat flour. Baked
into bread and distributed at the prison hospital, it lasted several
months. This became known as "Whelan's Bread." One prisoner said
afterward, "Without doubt he was the means of saving hundreds of lives."
Sick prisoners who could not get into the hospital were moved into
the new barracks, which were only slightly more comfortable than a
hovel in the ground. Henry Milton Roach, Co. G, 78 Ohio Infantry, wrote,
"One of the most pitiful scenes that came before any observation was
that of a man of middle age, who through patriotism, had sacrificed the
dearest ties to man, that of leaving wife and children, all that his
country and flag might live. This man became insane and believed he was
at home with his family, describing all of the circumstances of his home
life. This poor victim whom I have described was finally released by
death, but the last lingering word from his lips was "Mary."
THE OFFICERS' STOCKADE AT ANDERSONVILLE WITH THE HOSPITAL AND GUARDS'
BARRACKS IN THE DISTANCE. (HARPER'S WEEKLY)|
August 13, 1864
Occupying a wall-tent near our dispensary was a lady with a young
child. I at first supposed that she was the wife of one of the officers
in charge, but soon learned that she was a prisoner, having been
captured in company with her husband, who was steamboat captain and a
17th Ohio Infantry
Some of the parolees' duty outside the prison was to bury the dead.
They dug trenches about one hundred and sixty feet long and three feet
deep with a one foot deep vault at the bottom. They split slabs of wood
and placed them over each of the dead. James R. Compton, Co. F, 4th Iowa
Infantry, wrote, "It is no small task to bury one hundred and twenty men
each day. So badly would they decompose during the interval between
death and burial that often we found, when we attempted to lift them,
that the skin slipped from the flesh, and often the flesh cleared from
the bone. Here comes a government wagon piled full of our brave boys;
thrown into the wagon like a lot of dead swine, to be rudely thrown out
again on their arrival at the burial ground."
It was the end of September and the stockade that had held over
30,000 a few weeks earlier was nearly empty. Only those who could not
walk remained, besides the prisoners who had to work on the outside of
the prison to keep it operating.
Those who did remain continued to find ways to occupy their time. As
William B. Clifton, Co. K, 37th Indiana Cavalry, wrote, "Well, we had to
have some kind of amusement and so they had lice races. They could get a
tin plate and make a small ring in the center of the plate, heat it in
the sun, drop two lice on the center of the plate, and bet on the one
getting out of the ring first. One person would say, 'drop' and the lice
were dropped on the plate and the lice would start to run to get off of
the hot plate. I seen poor fellows crawl up to look at the lice race
that would be dead in thirty minutes."
August 19, 1864
Each morning, at 9 o'clock, a lone drummer appeared at the south gate
and beat "sick call", when the worst cases of sick would be carried up
and examined by two attending physicians, a few of which would be
admitted to the hospital and the rest returned to their respective
divisions. The same drummer thumped away each morning to summon the camp
to deliver up its dead.
Private, Co. K,
5th Iowa Infantry
In a letter dated September 29, 1864, Major General H.W. Hallux,
chief of staff of the Union Armies, wrote J.G. Foster, who was in charge
of exchange of prisoners at Hilton Head, South Carolina. In the letter
Hallux stated, "Hereafter no exchange of prisoners shall be entertained
except on the field when captured. Every attempt at special or general
exchange has been met by the enemy with bad faith. It is understood that
arrangements may be made later toward exchange of sick and disabled men
on each side."
By the first of October, Andersonville ceased to be a receiving depot
for prisoners. Only those who could not travel were left. It became a
prison hospital. But with such a high proportion of the prisoners left
being sick the mortality rate rose dramatically. Besides the 8,218
prisoners present on October 1, another 444 were added during the month.
Of those 8,662 men, 3,913 received treatment in the hospital and of
these 1,560 died. Twenty eight escaped and 2,811 were transferred to
INTERRING THE DEAD, AS ILLUSTRATED
BY THOMAS O'DEA, 1885. (NPS)|
POINT LOOKOUT PRISON
Point Lookout Prison was located at the extreme tip of St. Mary's
County, Maryland, at the confluence of the Chesapeake Bay and the
Potomac River. The size of the camp was 1,000 feet square, about 23
acres, surrounded by a board fence 12 feet high with a platform on the
outside for the guards. The prisoners were housed in tents. The tents
were arranged on nine streets or divisions running east and west. The
prison was opened July 1863 and closed June 1865. Twenty thousand, one
hundred and ten prisoners went through the facility during its
existence, and 3,389, or 17%, died. The deaths came from bad management,
lack of adequate supplies such as clothing, blankets, wood and food,
failure to establish sanitary conditions, and brutality and senseless
killing by the guards.
NPS VOLUNTEERS PORTRAYING CAMP LIVING CONDITIONS. (NPS)|
It was reported by the surgeon in charge, R.R. Stevenson, that with
the overcrowding of the prison now over, the incidence of mortality at
the post was decreasing and that a careful analysis of the soil and
water proved that Andersonville was one of the healthiest places in the
Confederacy. He also reported that they were building sheds and other
suitable hospital buildings and in the course of one month ample
accommodations would be made for 2,000 patients at Andersonville. He
called attention to the importance of preventing the crowding of
prisoners at any other post.
The prisoners now had a roll call every morning and were formed into
detachments of 500 each. There were approximately 2,500 healthy men and
1,280 sick. The rations now included bread baked in cakes or loaves
about two feet square and four inches thick. The prisoners received soup
in boots, bootleg buckets, and drawer and pantaloons legs secured at the
bottom. Although the food had improved somewhat and the crowding was
over, the death rate was still high.
LEAVING ANDERSONVILLE, ANDERSONVILLE MILITARY PRISON SERIES BY
J.E. TAYLOR, 1898. (LC)|
In November 499 died. There were 1,359 prisoners on hand. Captain
Wirz complained about prisoners escaping every night because he did not
have enough guards.
PRISON GUARDS AT ANDERSONVILLE
During most of the prison's existence the Georgia Reserve comprised
the guard. Most of them were young boys or old men. During the 14 months
of the prison's existence, over 200 of them died. Most of these (117)
were buried nearby. When the cemetery wall was erected in 1878, the
guard cemetery was left outside the wall. The United Daughters of the
Confederacy, which had been saving money for a monument, used the funds
to have the bodies disinterred and moved to Oak Grove Cemetery in
According to the Sanitary Commission in the North, from July to
November 1864 they sent to Andersonville 5,000 sheets, 7,000 pairs of
drawers, 4,000 handkerchiefs, 600 overcoats, blankets, shoes canned
milk, coffee, farina, cornstarch and tobacco in corresponding
quantities. This could not overcome the effects of over-crowding, the
stinking swamp nor the lack of shelter and medicine.