The Castle Thunder prison consisted of 3 large, seperate buildings inside a fenced compound. The 3 buildings were the Gleanor's Tobacco Factory, which was seized by the Confederate government for military use, Palmer's Factory, and Whitlock's Warehouse. Gleanor's Factory could hold up to 650 prisoners. It housed the Confederate Army deserters and political prisoners. Whitlock's Warehouse could hold up to 350 prisoners. It housed the women and black prisoners. Palmer's Factory could hold up to 400 prisoners. It housed Union deserters and Union P.O.W.'s. The main building was in the front, or middle, with the 2 smaller buildings on either side of it. A wooden fence was used for the front of the prison and a long brick wall was used to connect the 2 smaller buildings, providing a small, enclosed yard. Guard boxes lined the top of the walls looking into the yard. The common area behind the buildings was used as a exercise yard and latrines. barred windows along the backs of the buildings overlooked the yard.
Gaslights were used and water was available with the approval of the guards. As with other prisons in the Richmond area, the new prison reached its 1,400-prisoner capacity very quickly.
The prison was considered to be a fearsome place even by Southerners. The prison quickly aquired the reputation for unnecessary brutality. The brutality got so bad that by spring of 1863, the Confederate House of Representatives ordered an investigation of the prison.
The prison's most notorious commandanbt was Capt. George W. Alexander. He was captured in 1861 while fighting in Maryland. While awaiting execution by the Union Army, he escaped to Richmond.
Security at the prison was intense under Alexander. Some prisoners complained that he would constantly be adding new rules to limit what the prisoners could do.
LIFE & CONDITIONS:
Life at the prison was more barbarous than at other prisons. The prison was noted as a "high risk" institution. A newspaper correspondent wrote that the inmates of Castle Thunder in Richmond were so tough, they laughed when death struck one of their number, saddened "no more than if it had never occured. One simply stretched out the man's limbs with wood under his head, and notified the guard with the jocose remark, 'There's a fellow here got his discharge and wants to get out' ".
The many held in the prison as spies and criminals charged with treason were said to have been treated with unnecessary brutality by the guards. The unsavory reputation of the prison obliged the Confederate House of Representatives in 1863 to order an investigation of the commandant, Capt. George W. Alexander, who had been accused of "harshness, inhumanity, tyranny, and dishonesty". Alexander was eventually cleared of the charges, partially by citing the hard-bitten character of the inmates as justification for his behavior. Alexander thought the most difficult prisoners were the "pug-uglies of Baltimore and the wharf-rats of New Orleans."
But not just the commandant thought Castle Thunder residents to especially tough, the prisoners themselves reveled in their fearsome reputation. During its course he said that the most difficult of the prisoners were "the plug-uglies of baltimore and the wharf-rats of New Orleans". After Richmond fell, the Federals used the prison to confine Confederates accused of war crimes.
During the prison's existence, an estimated 100 women were held there. Women prisoners spent an average of 6 months there before being released.
Smallpox and diseases were increasing dramatically. The daily rations were getting smaller as the population continued to grow.