Civil War Prisoners of War

Was your ancestor in a civil war prison

“As we entered the place, a spectacle met our eyes that almost froze our blood with horror…before us were forms that had once been active and erect—stalwart men, now nothing but mere walking skeletons, covered with filth and vermin…Many of our men exclaimed with earnestness, ‘Can this be hell?'” Robert H. Kellogg

According to records, about 56,000 soldiers died in prisons during the war, accounting for almost 10% of all Civil War fatalities. During a period of 14 months in Camp Sumter, located near Andersonville, Georgia, 13,000 (28%) of the 45,000 Union soldiers confined there died. Was your ancestor among them? One of mine was there and although he survived, he was ill the remainder of his life.

Some say that the high mortality rate was not deliberate, but the result of ignorance of nutrition and proper sanitation on both sides of the conflict. History professor, James Robinson, said “”Americans had never been faced with what to do with more than 100 men in captivity before.”  Per historic records, the sanitation was so lacking at Andersonville that visitors oftentimes retched when approaching the prison due to the smell of raw sewage.

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Andersonville Civil War Prison Camp

Civil War Prison Camps

Although Andersonville is probably among the best known, it’s estimated there were approximately 150 prison camps of varying sizes. Among the best known:

  • Belle Isle (Virginia)
  • Camp Douglas (Illinois)
  • Elmira Prison (New York)
  • Point Lookout (Maryland)
  • Alton Federal Prison (Illinois)

If an ancestor was imprisoned at Andersonville or Cahaba (Alabama) you can search for him in this free database: Civil War Prisons.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also like:
Civil War Divided Loyalties
Civil War Christmas
A Virginia Girl in the Civil War
Illinois Civil War Records

The site also has a database of the more than 1,500 Union soldiers who died on the steamboat Sultana in 1865. Sadly, the men had been released from Andersonville and Cahaba and were on their way home when the boilers exploded.

Civil War Steamboat Sultana

Recommended Reading

Civil War Prison Camps: A Brief History
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