Georges Island was the busiest of Boston's islands during the Civil War. Its strategic location and granite Fort Warren, guarding The Narrows, the shipping channel into Boston’s inner harbor, and the Nantasket Roads channel to the south, made it Boston’s main line of defense against enemy invasion. The fort also served as a recruiting and training camp for Massachusetts regiments of the Union Army. Fort Warren’s most important wartime function was as a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp, beginning in October 1861, with the arrival of 155 political prisoners and over 600 military prisoners.
The highest-ranking civilian prisoner at Fort Warren was Alexander H. Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederacy, who was held at the fort from May 25-October 13, 1865. On May 28, 1865, Stephens described the initial impact of his imprisonment:
The horrors of imprisonment, close confinement, no one to see or talk to, with the reflection of being cut off for I know not how long and perhaps forever—from communication with dear ones at home, are beyond description. Words utterly fail to express the soul’s anguish…. (Stephens, 1910:133)
Prepared by Jane Triber, 2005