Civil War Prisoner of War Camps

Today we look at a facet of the war that usually is not well publicized:  prisoner of war camps.

Initially, captured troops from both sides were usually paroled, on the promise to not return to combat. However a formal exchange system set up in 1862, lasted less than a year.

On the Confederate side, captured Union soldiers were first housed in warehouses and barns.  The cessation of exchanges in 1863 resulted in a massive increase  in the number of prisoners, and specialized prison camps were built in places like Florence, SC, Millen and Andersonville, GA ( officially called Camp Sumter ) and others. The  most common camps consisted of wooden stockades enclosing open fields.

On the Union side, the government converted former camps of instruction, like Camp Butler, Illinois, Camp Chase, Ohio, and camps at Elmira, New York. As in the south, they consisted of stockades. Other Confederate prisoners were sent to  Fort McHenry in Baltimore and Fort Warren in Boston Harbor.

The most common problems, on both sides, were overcrowding, poor sanitation, and inadequate food.  Poor administration, both by prison officials,  and the prisoners themselves, made issues worse.

Of the 194,732 Union soldiers held in Confederate prison camps, some 30,000 died while captive. The Federals held around  220,000 Confederate prisoners, with nearly 26,000 perishing.

At Camp Sumter ( Andersonville, pictured below ), 29 percent of the roughly  45,000 Federal prisoners held throughout the war died. As for the Northern prisons, at Camp Douglas, Illinois, 15 percent of the 30,000 Confederate prisoners died.