How Many Prisoners Died in these "Hell Holes"?

In 1864, having decided the exchange of prisoners benefited the Confederacy, Union officials stopped the program, thereby bringing on overcrowding and miserable conditions for most prisoners of war. Disease, hunger, and overexposure to the elements were more often the rule than the exception at prisons, and they took a heavy toll. Of the nearly 194,000 Union soldiers held prisoner, 22,576 died; of about 214,000 Confederates in Northern prisons, 26,436 died.

Many died of malnutrition
With the South barely able to feed its own men, the prisoners, who were supposed to get the same rations as Confederate soldiers, starved-receiving rancid grain and perhaps a few tablespoons a day of mealy beans or peas. The poor food and sanitation, the lack of shelter and health care, the crowding, and the hot Georgia sun all took their toll in the form of dysentery, scurvy, malaria, and exposure.

With no pomp or ceremony, prison cemeteries began to grow rapidly. In Sumter County, Ga., where the notorious Andersonville Stockade Prison existed for only 14 months, mass burials of more than 100 men were conducted on many days.

Andersonville was established as a national cemetery in 1865, and today white stone markers in painfully long rows mark the almost 13,000 graves of prisoners who died there, joined by almost 3,000 newer graves of veterans. The grounds also house a museum honoring all American prisoners of war from all of the nation's wars.

Assignment to Elmira (Hellmira to survivors) Prison in New York was a death sentence for 2,917 Confederates. Ill equipped for the cold, many of the prisoners stood barefoot in the snow for roll call. An ex-slave was paid to bury the dead prisoners in a 2.5 acre cemetery. In 1877 the government bought the land for $1,500, named it "Woodlawn Cemetery," and replaced the wooden headboards with stones.

Camp Chase near Columbus, Ohio, was another horrible location for Southern prisoners. Its cemetery, named "The City of the Dead," holds the remains of 2,260 Confederate soldiers. After the war the cemetery sat overgrown and neglected until 1894, when Union colonel W.H. Knauss took it upon himself to clear the ground and plant trees and bushes; he also "marked and kept green all the long neglected graves he could find largely at his own expense." Others then pitched in: an arch inscribed "America" was erected over the entrance and decoration ceremonies were held to honor the dead.