By the time the Florence Stockade opened in September 1864, the Confederate Army desperately needed men able to fight. A conscription program provided part of the solution. A February 1864 law called on a wide age span of men to serve. Men of military age, usually between 18 and 45 yrs old went to combat areas. Older men (45 to 50 years old) and younger boys (17 or 18 years old) joined reserve units in each state. The majority of the guards at the Florence Stockade consisted of South Carolina State Reserve battalions made up of men from several counties near Florence. The 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th State Reserves were assigned to the Florence Stockade.
Like prison life, guard duty was boring and tiring. Guards had to stand at their post with no shelter regardless of the weather. Guards were stationed in three places: 1) around the earthen wall outside the stockade, 2) at posts along the base of the wall, and 3) at posts scattered in various places further from the stockade. Every man served his time on duty. Duty often consisted of standing guard one day, then during the night of the next day. Each soldier also had to do chores in camp. Guards repaired shelters, cleaned the camp, cooked rations, and cut firewood. Out of no more than about 1,600 guards available, as many as many as 300 men were required for duty every day.
Second Lieutenant Thomas J. Eccles, of the 3rd South Carolina State Reserves, wrote a newspaper column describing the activities and conditions of the camp. His writings show that the Confederate guards, especially the reservists, were not well equipped. When they first arrived at Florence in October 1864, Eccles indicated that his men had no shelter and were using blankets as tents. He wrote, “Our men have exercised great ingenuity in construction of tents and huts, which has infringed greatly on their supply of bed clothes, which will inconvenience them greatly when winter sets in.” 1
As the guards settled in to their new camp, their shelter improved. On November 11, Eccles wrote, “...the men have constructed for themselves as comfortable camps as circumstances allow, being without plank or nails. Some, who were able, have brought cloth and made themselves tents, in which they can keep dry.” 2
By late January 1865, the guards were comfortable enough that they did not want to leave Florence. Eccles indicated, “...those who have been anxiously looking for a removal, now express a willingness to remain until the winter is over, as they are generally well provided with comfortable cabins, or tents, with chimnies attached.” 3
Shelter took many forms for the guards. A few large, conical tents, called “Sibley tents,” each housed several men at once. Most of the men built small cabins or huts from split logs. A common method of construction was to dig a hole three to four feet deep and as long and wide as desired, then build short walls out of logs on top of the hole. Poles across the walls formed a frame for a roof, which was usually covered by “shelter halves” (sheets of canvas or some other cloth strung across the poles) or split boards. Shelters generally contained a small fireplace or stove at one end. Chimneys of either sticks and clay or clay-lined barrels or crates rose over these. If sawn lumber was available, the dirt walls and floor inside the hut could be lined to keep out moisture.
Although they were well sheltered and adequately fed a diet of beef, corn meal, flour, rice, beans and molasses, the guards otherwise were not well equipped. Several daily reports mention a lack of coats or even shoes suggesting that guards apparently were issued no uniforms or clothing. We do not know what military equipment, if any, was issued. It appears that they received at least a musket, although probably an older model; a bayonet; ammunition; and a canteen. They had cooking vessels and utensils as well. Local sources probably provided what the Army could not. For instance, Eccles reported that no shovels were available to help dig a well. We know that hand-made shovels were used to complete wells in the camp. A local blacksmith may have made supplies such as shovels.
With shelter, adequate food, and clean water from wells, the Confederate guards remained relatively healthy. Eccles reports small outbreaks of measles, mumps, and typhoid, which were treated at the hospital in the town of Florence. He mentions the deaths of seven members of his battalion, three of these to typhoid.4 Despite exposure to the weather while on duty, it is apparent that the overall health of the guards was good.
Questions for Reading 3
1) How did the Confederacy address the need for fighting men in 1864? Why do you think that younger and older men served as prison guards?
2) What is a Sibley tent? What is a shelter half? If you were a guard who had to build a shelter, what kind would you build and why? Remember that you have to do the work by hand and might not have the tools you need for certain tasks.
3) What did the guards eat? Eccles complained that his rations were ‘short’ because he did not get any tobacco. Would you say that the guards were starving? Why or why not?
4) Compare and contrast the conditions for the prisoners described in Reading 2 with that of the guards. What do the similarities and differences tell you about how the war was affecting life in the South?
Reading 3 was compiled from Thomas J. Eccles, From the State Reserves (a series of articles appearing in the Yorkville Enquirer, York, SC 1864-1865); Sidney Andrews, The South Since the War (Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, LA, 2004); and Florence Military Records (South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, 1864-1865).
1 “From the State Reserves.” Camp Prison, Florence, S.C., Oct. 7, 1864, E. http://www.oocities.org/sc_seedcorn/Bn03SC_Eccles.html
3 "From the Reserve Forces," Camp Prison, Florence, S.C., Nov. 11, 1864. E.
3 "From the Reserve Forces," Florence, S.C., January 27, 1865, E.
4 Thomas J. Eccles, From the State Reserves (Yorkville Enquirer, York, SC, 1864-1865).