Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Point Lookout Prison Camp Collection, 1863-1865

James S. Schoff Civil War Collection

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, October 1997, and Mary Parsons, 2018

Summary Information
Title: Point Lookout Prison Camp collection
Creator: Point Lookout Prison for Confederates
Inclusive dates: 1863-1865
Bulk dates: 1863-1864
Extent: 1.5 linear feet
Abstract:
The Point Lookout Prison Camp collection includes official correspondence, prisoners' letters, sutlers' receipts, and other documents relating to Confederate prisoners of war held at the Point Lookout Military Prison, Maryland, largely between the summers of 1863 and 1864.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu


Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1974-2010. M-1688, M-3334, M-4742.2, M-4784.2, M-4796.3.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.

Copyright:

Copyright status is unknown

Other Finding Aids:

Mary Parsons compiled detailed indices for the letters written by Point Lookout's prisoners: Prisoners' Correspondence Indices. Mary Parsons's research notes and copies are available for consultation in the Clements Library's reading room.

Preferred Citation:

Point Lookout Prison Camp Collection, James S. Schoff Civil War Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Arrangement

The collection is arranged in four series:

  • Official Correspondence and Documents
  • Prisoners' Correspondence
  • Third Party Correspondence
  • Sutlers' receipts
  • Mary Parsons research

History

In 1863, the Union Army established a prison camp for Confederate POWs at Point Lookout, Maryland, on the tip of the peninsula where the Potomac River joins Chesapeake Bay. In the two years during which the camp was in operation, August 1863 to June 1865, Point Lookout overflowed with inmates, surpassing its intended capacity of 10,000 to a population numbering between 12,500 and 20,000. In all, over 50,000 men, both military and civilian, were held prisoner there.

G. W. Jones, a private of Co. H, 24th Virginia Cavalry, described his ominous entrance into the prison amidst "a pile of coffins for dead rebels," hearing the lid close shut on his own soon thereafter when he learned that the system of prisoner exchanges had been suspended for the duration of the war. Jones described the camp as laid out into a series of streets and trenches, intended to aid in drainage, and surrounded by a fourteen-foot parapet wall. Prisoners, who lived sixteen or more to a tent, were subjected to habitually short rations and limited firewood in winter, and when the coffee ration was suspended for Federal prisoners at Andersonville, the Point Lookout prisoners lost theirs as well.

The worst the prisoners suffered, however, may have been inflicted by the physical conditions. The flat topography, sandy soil, and an elevation barely above high tide led to poor drainage, and the area was subjected to extreme weather, from blazing heat to bone-chilling cold. Polluted water exacerbated the problems of inadequate food, clothing, fuel, housing, and medical care, and as a result, approximately 4,000 prisoners died there over 22 months.


Collection Scope and Content Note

The Point Lookout Prison Camp collection includes official correspondence, prisoners' letters, sutlers' receipts, and other documents relating to Confederate prisoners of war held at the Point Lookout Military Prison, Maryland, largely between the summers of 1863 and 1864. The collection is made up of 770 letters and around 2,200 sutlers' accounts and receipts for goods sold to prisoners.

The Correspondence is comprised of 137 official letters pertaining largely to the disposition of prisoners; 147 letters written by prisoners of war, mostly requesting to take the loyalty oath or to be assigned duty as a non-combatant; and 486 letters by private individuals on behalf of prisoners, many seeking information, relaying information, or requesting goods to be forwarded.

Among the prisoners' letters are several discussing family hardships, bewilderment at arrest (for civilian prisoners), or simple expressions of exhaustion and a desire to find a way out of the war. The sample, of course, is biased, in that the letters in the Point Lookout Collection were all addressed to federal authorities--mostly to commandant, John N. Patterson. While some prisoners expressed an abiding loyalty to the southern cause, others complained of being drafted into the service against their will and principles, or claimed to have been so wrapped up in the emotions of the moment that they did not carefully consider their actions when enlisting. In a few cases, soldiers appeared to be genuinely disillusioned with the Confederacy. Twenty-nine of those who requested the loyalty oath can later be found serving with federal forces.

Within the prisoners' letters, the names of 255 men are mentioned in one way or another. Twelve of the men were civilians, and it was possible to identify the Confederate service unit of all but 23 of the rest of the men. The largest number of men were from Virginia, followed by Louisiana, Kentucky, and North Carolina; with considerably smaller numbers from Tennessee, Maryland, Missouri, and Mississippi; and the fewest men from South Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama, and Florida. While most came from Southern states, two men were born in Maine (James O. Goodale and Charles H. Small), two others in Illinois (Brice Holland and Minor Rogers/Rodgers), and at least one man from New York (Lucien A. Rudolph). Foreign-born men included Branilio Soza (Mexico), Paul Francis de Gournay (Cuba or France), Hector De Zevallos ("the West India Islands"), John Etchevery (France), Louis Tessandore/Tessandori (Tuscany, Italy), Frank Nidel/Neidell and George Tiefenbach (Germany), Thomas Larkin and William H. Smith (England), and Luke Baxter, James Fife, Patrick Cooper, Martin Griffin, and Michael Vahey (Ireland).

The prisoners' letters and letters from camp officials provide only very brief glimpses into the conditions of prison life, with very sporadic mention made of illness or crimes committed in camp.

Letters from third parties display a range of attitudes that are broadly similar to those expressed by the prisoners, with an understandable, rather heavier, emphasis on family hardship. Included in this series are numerous letters written by the wives, sisters or mothers of prisoners, but also some from women who may be inferred to have been members of relief organizations for Confederate soldiers.

The largest series of materials in the collection consists of approximately 2,200 sutlers' accounts and receipts for goods sold to prisoners.

Mary Parsons compiled detailed indices for the letters written by Point Lookout's prisoners: Prisoners' Correspondence Indices. Mary Parsons's research notes and copies are available for consultation in the Clements Library's reading room.

Subject Terms

    Subjects:
    • Galvanized Yankees.
    • Loyalty oaths--United States.
    • Military prisons--Maryland.
    • Patterson, John N.
    • Political prisoners--Confederate States of America.
    • Prisoners of War--Confederate States of America.
    • Sutlers--Maryland--Point Lookout--History--19th century.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Prisoners and prisons.
    Genre Terms:
    • Accounts.
    • Letters (correspondence)
    • Receipts (financial records)
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   105, Schoff Civil War Collection  
    Official correspondence and documents [series]
     
      January 2, 1863-April 18, 1864 and  undated
     
    Prisoners' correspondence [series]
     
     September 21, 1863-April 15, 1864;  April 13, 1865;  May 16, 1865 ; and  undated
     
    Third party correspondence [series]
     
      August 28, 1863-December 31, 1863
    Box   106, Schoff Civil War Collection  
     January 1, 1864-[ca. June ], 1864 , and  undated
    Box   107, Schoff Civil War Collection  
    Sutlers' receipts [series]
     
    Issued by Hiram Bailey,   September 3, 1863-October 17, 1863 (127 receipts)
     
    Issued by E. L. Donnelly (178 receipts)
     
    Issued by H. Hodgdon,   September 12, 1863-October 17, 1863 (117 receipts)
     
    Issued by Margaret M. Murphy,   September 14, 1863-January 28, 1864 (177 receipts)
     
    Issued by Capt. J. N. Patterson,   November 30, 1863-April 19, 1864
    Box   108, Schoff Civil War Collection  
    L. H. James receipts,   October 1, 1863-December 25, 1863
     
    L. H. James receipts,   December 27, 1863-January 31, 1864
    Box   109, Schoff Civil War Collection  
    L. H. James receipts,   February 1, 1864-April 13, 1864
    Box   110, Schoff Civil War Collection  
    Mary Parsons research on letters by prisoners at Point Lookout [series]
     
    Prisoners, Ab-Hol
    Box   111, Schoff Civil War Collection  
    Prisoners, Hoo-Y
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Bibliography

    Jones, G. W. In Prison at Point Lookout. Martinsville, Va.: Bulletin Printing & Publishing Co., 1890.