Search, View, Print Union & Confederate Civil War Prisoner of War Records, 1861-1865
As the number of prisoners steadily increased after the battle at Gettysburg , it became evident that the number of current Union prisons was not enough to hold them all. Since no major prisons had been built or facilities converted since the Confederate defeats at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson in 1862, Quartermaster General Meigs ordered Brig. Gen. Daniel H. Rucker, chief quartermaster, to establish a prison camp at Point Lookout, Maryland, which would hold 10,000 prisoners.
Point Lookout was the largest and one of the worst Union prisoner-of-war camps, established on August 1, 1863. It was located at the extreme tip of St. Mary's County, on the long, low, and barren peninsula where the Potomac River joins Chesapeake Bay. It had been a resort area with hotels, boarding houses, cottages, and commercial establishments before the war. The site was leased to the Federal Government in June 1862, and quickly became a major government installation. The site was comparitively isolated and easily protected. At the extreme end of the peninsula, near the lighthouse, a 1,400-bed hospital complex was built with 20 buildings arranged in a circle, a large wharf to receive supplies and the wounded soldiers that came in from battlefields; a number of storehouses and stables; laundry and dining facilities; and additional quarters for officers, doctors, surgeons, and Union troops. The hospital became one of the largest and busiest medical facilities in the Union's service.
A 40-acre site about 1/2 mile northeast of the hospital was selected, and work began on enclosing the area with a 15-foot-high fence, with a gallery along the top of the fence for the guards. The fence also divided the prison into 2 sections, one about 30 acres and the other about 10 acres. The inside of the prison was a flat stretch of sand without any shrubs or trees. The dividing of the prison was to seperate the enlisted prisoners from the officer prisoners. All of the prisoners would have tents instead of barracks for their shelter. The camp was only about 5 feet above sea level.
The prison's official name was Camp Hoffman but it was hardly ever used. Before long, the prison became the most populated and largest Union prison, at one time holding 20,000 prisoners, because it was so close to the battlefields on the Eastern Theater.
The first guard detail assigned to the camp was the 2nd and 12th New Hampshire Regiments. Other guard details included the 4th Rhode Island Volunteer Regiment, 10th Regiment U.S. Veteran Reserve Corps, 166th Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st U.S. Volunteers, and the 139th Ohio Infantry Regiment. On February 25, 1864, for the first time, the 36th U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment. Other black guard details included the 5th Massachusetts Colored Cavalry, the 3rd and 4th Maryland Colored Regiments, and the 24th and 28th Colored Infantry Regiments. All the guard details were extremely strict and easily provoked. Assisting the guards in their duties was the ironclad U.S.S. Roanoke, sitting in the bay.
The first commandant was Brig. Gen. Gilman Marston. He was replaced in December 1863 by Brig. Gen. Edward W. Hinks, in April 1864 by Col. Alonzo G. Draper, and in July by Brig. Gen. James Barnes.
The fisrt prisoners arrived in late July and by the end of the year, the population was more than 9,000 prisoners. By mid-summer 1864, it was over 15,500 prisoners.
The prisoner's tents were set up in 9 parallel "streets" running east to west. The main path through the center of the camp was known as "Pennsylvania Avenue." Each row of tents were labeled as a division and would hold 1,000 or more prisoners.
All prisoners lived in the overcrowded tents and shacks, with no barracks to protect them from heat and coastal storms. There were several different kinds of tents that the prisoners used. Each row of tents were labeled as a division and would hold 1,000 or more prisoners. The majority of the different types were: A-tents (5 men), Sibley tents (13-14 men), Hospital tents (15-18 men), Wall tents (3-8 men), Hospital flys (10-13 men), Wall-tent flys (3-8 men), and Shelter tents (3 men).
The back of the prison was next to the bay. Here, the prisoners were allowed a certain area to bathe, wash clothes, and find additional food, such as clams, lobsters, and fish. Fresh water for drinking was scarce and polluted. Wells supplied the water for the camp, but they proved too shallow and had iron and alkaline salts in it. Later on, a boat was arranged to bring in fresh water for the prison.
There was never enough food or firewood; both were strictly rationed. Rats were a major source of protein for some inmates, and catching them became a favorite sport in the camp. Rations were supposed to consist of pork 2 out of 3 days, with beef on the 3rd day. The rations were served twice a day, 8:00-9:00 A.M. for breakfast and 3:00-4:00 P.M. for dinner.
There were weekly inspections of the prisoners, in which the prisoners would have their tents inspected for contraband. Flooding of the prison compound was frequent, soaking the prisoners their clothing, and their tents. There were cases of the prison commandant and his subordinates either reducing the quality or quanity of the rations for their personal profit.
There was much animosity between the prisoners and the guards, who were mostly black troops. One Confederate who had managed to purchase his freedom from the prison reported that "murder was not only not scrupled at, but opportunities sought for its commission by the guards, who are known to have been offered by the officer of the day as much as $10 and $15 apiece for every prisoner they could shoot in the discharge of their duty."
Because of the topography, drainage was poor, and the area was subject to extreme heat in the summer and cold in the winter. This exacerbated the problems created by inadequate food, clothing, fuel, housing, and medical care. As a result, approximately 3,000 prisoners died there over 22 months.
Besides chronic dirrhea, dysentary and typhoid fever had become epidemic at the camp while smallpox, scvurvy, and the itch had become quite common.
The latrines at the camp were built out over the bay on the east side of the camp for use in the daytime. Large boxes and or tubs were used at nighttime.
Daily activities in the camp consisted of reveille between dawn and sunrise and followed by roll call. After breakfast, the prisoners passed time by busying themselves with a wide variety of occupations and pasttimes.
There were still 22,000 prisoners being held by the end of the war in April 1865.They were eventually released in a combination of alphebetical order and reverse order of states that seceded from the Union. By june 30, all of the prisoners had been transferred out of the camp. It is known that at least 3,584 prisoners died at the prison.
It is estimated that a total of 52,264 prisoners, both military and civilian, were held prisoner there. Although it was designed for 10,000 prisoners, during most of its existence it held 12,600 to 20,000 inmates. Only 50 escapes were successful at the camp.