The Salisbury NC Confederate Civil War Prison

Salisbury National Cemetery

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PDF file of PA., NJ., DE., & regular troop deaths in the 60 days prior
to December 1864.  Submitted by E Campos 26th. PVI


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  Although the 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 rights.   

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 view.

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 POWspicture that appeared in Harper's Weekly in June 1862 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 Garrison houseacres, 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.Prison barracks drawing in 1864  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.

Major John H. Gee 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..   A 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 Carolina. 

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 theFresh water stream 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 history.General George Stoneman

        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 Salisbury National Cemeterythose 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 Monument 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.


Please click on thumbnails below to visit
three Civil War Trails locations in Salisbury

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North Carolina Governor John W. Ellis
born in Rowan County November 23, 1820
died on July 7, 1861 was buried at his homestead cemetery in Davidson County.  Pictures are below of the family cemetery that is nestled in a grove of large trees overlooking the mighty Yadkin River.  He was later moved to the old English cemetery in Salisbury.  His home place was located only 600 yards from the cemetery.  Early writings indicate that the home place was only 300 yards from the eastern approach to the famous Trading Ford.  The home place is now gone and the land is occupied by the Norfolk Southern rail yard.  When U.S. President Lincoln demanded troops for the Union armies from North Carolina, Ellis saw this as unconstitutional, and a "high-handed act of tyrannical outrage" against North Carolina's Southern sisters. Ellis responded to Lincoln, "You will receive no troops from North Carolina" and issued a proclamation calling for a special session of the state legislature. The legislature backed Ellis, and called a convention to declare secession. On May 20, an ordinance for secession was passed, and North Carolina left the Union.

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Picture of Gov. Ellis' monument in the Old English cemetery in Salisbury, NC. Picture of large headstone in Ellis family cemetery.
View of Ellis cemetery in Davidson County. View of same cemetery with what is left of hand made brick wall that surrounded the cemetery.
Pictures below were taken atop the hilltop of Camp Yadkin overlooking the Yadkin River.  Picture on the left is a view looking up river toward the old toll bridge.  If you look closely you can see one of the concrete bridge foundations in the river.  The picture on the right is a view of the Wil-Cox (Hwy. 29) bridge and the Norfolk Southern Railroad bridge.  This is the view that the southern forces troops would have had during the Civil War.

On April 12, 1865, Federal General George Stoneman ordered his 3rd. Brigade to destroy the Yadkin River bridge. Opposition to destroying the bridge came from across the river by Confederate soldiers at Camp Yadkin. This impenetrable fortification was under the command of Confederate General Zebulon York. Armed with cannons on a rock hilltop. After a seven hour artillery duel, the Yankees were forced to withdraw. Seventy-six years after the Wil-Cox bridge opened, the NC DOT has scheduled it for demolition along with the widening of Interstate 85. This bridge is eligible for registration on the National Register of Historic Places. For the past eight months, a group of individuals from the governmental organizations of Rowan and Davidson Counties has been meeting with the NC Transportation Museum and the Spencer Municipal Building gradually developing strategies to preserve this historic treasure.


Cemetery Records On-Line
Census Diggins On-Line

Rowan Rifles Camp 405, Salisbury, NC

NC Civil War Round Table

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Salisbury National Cemetery or Salisbury Prison

Playing ball

The prison pen

Meeting on the square

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Clyde Overcash
224 East Bank Street
Salisbury, NC  28144

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