Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Point Lookout Prison Camp for Confederates

Point Lookout Prison Camp for Confederates was located on a low, sandy spit of land in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, separating the Chesapeake Bay from the Potomac River. Surrounded on three sides by water, its beautiful sandy beaches belied a mosquito problem created by nearby swamps.

During the late 1850s, the peninsula had been developed into a seaside resort. A hotel and cottages had been built and leased, but at the outset of the war, the developer ran into financial problems. He mortgaged the property to William H. Allen of Baltimore City who approached the Federal Government with a proposal to build a military hospital there.[1] In 1862, work began to expand the hotel and cottages into just such a facility, which was named Hammond General Hospital. The plan was a large circular facility from which smaller buildings radiated like wheel spokes.[2]

After Gettysburg in July of 1863, the huge number of Confederates prisoners, about 10,000, caused the government to scramble for places to put them, so Point Lookout was designated a prisoner of war depot.[3] Brigadier General Gilman Marsten, U. S. Army, was handed the job of turning the place into a prison.[4] Convalescing Union soldiers at Hammond Hospital with its 1,400 beds were moved to Baltimore. By late September, over 4,000 prisoners had arrived at Point Lookout, and by the end of December, that number had more than doubled. They were housed in old tents.[5] A board fence twelve feet high was hastily built to enclose the area where the prisoners were held.[6] Surrounding the fence on the inside was a platform for sentinels.[7]  Prisoners who tried to escape were shot.

Some prisoners moved to Point Lookout from Fort Delaware had smallpox and scurvy.[8] Marsten’s request for fresh vegetables was granted, but he was not to allow prisoners to receive gifts or luxuries from home, only basic clothing needs. In general, filthy conditions proliferated, chronic diarrhea was the most pressing health problem, and a shortage of clothing and blankets, not to mention inadequate housing, caused ragged, dirty, and ill-clad prisoners to suffer from the cold.[9]

In December 1863, Dr. A. M. Clark was sent to inspect the camp. He reported the following: "787 rebel and 293 Union patients in Hammond Hospital where facilities were good; the water supply was sufficient, but bad due to shallow surface wells . . . which were contaminated by unsanitary camp conditions; there was much chronic diarrhea, dysentery, and general scorbutic taint; the cemetery was located 1 ¾ miles from the hospital; deaths in the hospital for November, 1863, were 13.98% for the prisoners, and .019% for the Federals; there were 8,764 prisoners, 1,196 sick; the prisoners camp was located ½ mile from the extreme point of the bay side with 980 tents which accommodated 8,530, exclusive of the hospitals arranged on nine streets or divisions, about sixty feet wide, running nearly east and west; sinks were built out over the bay on the east but were insufficient; night boxes were insufficient and not properly attended; streets were messy with offal; food was satisfactory, served in six mess halls which accommodate 500 at a time; men and clothing dirty, but apparently enough clothing except overcoats and underwear; sufficient blankets, but very foul; condition of men as good as could be expected in similar camps; there were thirty hospital tents for prisoners not sick enough to be in Hammond Hospital; aggregate number of sick 2,900,  with deaths running 1.2%; the contagious (small pox) hospital in bad condition generally; two great faults to be found with camp, imperfect drainage and crowding tents too close together."[10]

Although Clark recommended changes to improve conditions, nothing much had been improved by the time my great-grandfather Daniel A. Troutman arrived at Point Lookout in October 1864.

[1] Edwin W. Beitzell, Point Lookout Prison Camp For Confederates (Leonardtown, Maryland: St. Mary’s County Historical Society, 1983), 19.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., 20.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid., 21.
[7] Ibid., 22.
[8] Ibid., 21.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid., 22-23

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