buildings are gone and hardly one stone to be found the site of the
notorious Civil War Salisbury Prison is alive and well. During the
early days of the Civil War, the “War of northern aggression”, the “war
to liberate the negro slave”, however you refer to it was one of the
darkest times for the American nation. In the late 1850s and early
1860s the South was experiencing a large economic growth. Their
export trading with other parts of the world was vast. Southern
living for many was laid back and elegant. For others it was
slavery. In the eyes of most Southerners slavery was a way of
life. For the outsider looking in it was a tragedy. Some say
the origins of the war effort of the Union came from envy of the “good”
life in the South rather than an effort to stop slavery. When and why
the motives changed I don’t know and it appears the main thrust of the
Union became the freedom of the negro slave. The Southerner looked
at this as an invasion of their homeland and attack on their statehood
This website is not here to debate why the north and south went to war
but to share what information we can gather with all who would like to
Salisbury had been established in 1755 and was the 5th
largest city in North Carolina by 1860. Gov. John W. Ellis was a
Salisburian. Much can be said for the prosperity and high standing
of this area. It was a major railroad hub and a farming center.
It was also far from the front lines of a coming civil war.
Salisbury and North Carolina responded to this war with much fervor;
supplying many goods and many men, probably many more men than most
states. Salisbury proved itself to be a very patriotic town.
Very early in the war the Confederacy
realized the need to house POWs. A call went out to several states
by Confederate Secretary of War, L.P. Walker, asking for property to
house POWs. After a short time a location was selected in
Salisbury. The first surgeon at the Post and prison, a Salisburian
was Dr. Joseph W. Hall. He was appointed in January 1861 and
remained there until the end of the war. The first prison
commandant was Dr. Braxton Craven, president of Trinity College, which
is located near High Point, NC. Trinity College is now know as
Duke University. With POWs
from the battle of Bull Run on hand, and the
Maxwell Chambers Factory location being secured the POWs began to
flow in. The new prison designed to hold 2,000 would eventually
overflow with 10,000 or more. The purchase was final on November
2, 1861. The first prisoners arrived in December 1861, one
hundred nineteen union soldiers occupied the prison. 46 Bull Run
POWs and 73 sailors. By November 1864, 10,000 prisoners were
crammed into space adequate for several thousand. On sixteen
this brick building was four stories tall and 120 feet by 45 feet with a
roof of tin. The only structures left standing is the Garrison
house located on the north end of the original site.
Early on, the prison was not such a bad place to be. Prisons made
it know that being there was like being on a college campus.
Drawing on right was of inside barracks in August of 1862. Water
and shade from large oak trees were plentiful even into early 1864.
The entire prison was surrounded by a high wall in which guards walked
regularly. As the war progressed and Salisbury became more
established in supplying the war effort with munitions, weapons and
whiskey. The larger the demand of the war the less the prison had
to offer it's POWs. Food and medicine were scarce as were shelter
and clothing to protect against an unusually cold and wet season.
The death count mounted quickly. The trench burials grew.
In April of 1864 Salisbury arsenal provided
10,000 shells and 4,000 horseshoes to Atlanta. 1,000 muskets were
on order. The more Salisbury provided the war effort the more the
Union saw it well worth Stoneman's raid into the area. By fall of
1864, 8,000 to 10,000 were crowded inside the prison walls. As
sickness increased, all the buildings were converted into hospitals.
In August 1864 Major John H. Gee was
appointed to the post as commandant and was the best know of all the
commandants to serve at the Salisbury Prison. Although Gee's stay
at the prison was a short stay, he was the only commandant indicted and
tried for alleged mistreatment of the prisoners. He was found not
guilty because he was given a job that was impossible to perform.
A great reference book written about Major Gee can be found to right..
historical novel based upon the life story of: James E.
Reed; a union soldier, a warrior, a captive, a survivor, a
hero, and in the end, a human marred by inhumanity. A
story of the American Civil War, of a man, a place and a
chapter, seldom told and long-forgotten – James E. Reed and
the death camp at the Confederate Prison in Salisbury, North
11,700 unknown Union soldiers are thought
to be buried in 18 trenches, each 240 feet long, dug in an abandoned
corn field outside the Confederate Prison
stockades. Government records indicate about half that many.
Salisbury National Cemetery encompassed this mass grave site, now a
grassy expanse marked by a head and foot stone for each trench.
In the upper end of the
stockade was a spring that supplied the water for the
prison. The lower end of the stream was the latrine area. There
were also trips made outside the prison to a nearby stream for fresh
water. Unaware that bacteria could travel upstream, the rest is
General George Stoneman burned the prison buildings April 12-13, 1865.
The National Cemetery
was established in 1865 as a memorial to Union soldiers who died in the
prison. Monuments honoring
dead were dedicated by the Federal Government (1873), the State of Maine
(1908), the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (1909). AMVETS presented
a carillon (1984) as a living memorial to all who served our country.
About 56,000 soldiers died in prisons during the Civil War — a greater
percentage of those held captive than free soldiers who died in combat.
A great source for in depth information on the Salisbury Prison can be
found in many books at the
Salisbury / Rowan County Library. One book in particular is "The
Salisbury Prison" by Louis A. Brown.
The All Wars
was dedicated by the Rowan County Veterans Council (1990).
Burial in national
cemetery is open to all members of the Armed Forces and veterans
discharged under conditions other than dishonorable, as well as their
spouses, unremarried widow or widower, minor children and, under certain
conditions, unmarried adult children.
Web-page provider is
Not affiliated with National Cemetery or The Salisbury Prison.