William L. Clements Library
The University of Michigan
Schoff Civil War Collections

Point Lookout, Md., Prison Camp

Records, 1863 January 2-1864 June
1.5 lin. feet

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Background note:

A prison camp for Confederate prisoners of war was built at Point Lookout, Md., 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 fire wood in winter, and when the coffee ration was suspended for federal prisoners at Andersonville, the Point Lookout prisoner 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 every imaginable extreme of 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.

Scope and contents:

The Point Lookout Prison Camp Records include official correspondence, receipts and other documents relating to Confederate prisoners of war held at the Point Lookout Military Prison, Md., between the summer, 1863, and summer, 1864. The collection is comprised of 43 official letters pertaining largely to the disposition of prisoners; 124 letters written by prisoners of war, mostly requests to take the loyalty oath in order to be released into the federal military or to be assigned duty as a non-combatant; and approximately 700 letters written by private individuals on behalf of prisoners, mostly seeking information on prisoners' well-being, requests that goods or money be forwarded, or relaying other information.

Among the prisoners' correspondence are several letters 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 commandant, John N. Patterson. While some prisoners expressed an abiding loyalty to the southern cause, others complained of having been 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. Indeed, several of those who requested the loyalty oath can later be found serving with federal forces. 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 receipts and sutlers' accounts for goods sold to prisoners.

The collection is arranged in several series, with all but the Miscellaneous Materials at the end indexed for prisoners' names:

Box 1Printed itemJones, G. W. In prison at Point Lookout (Martinsville, Va., n.d.)

CorrespondenceOfficial correspondence, 1863 January 2-1864 April 4, n.d.

CorrespondencePrisoners' correspondence, 1863 September 21-1864 April 15, n.d.

CorrespondenceCorrespondence from third parties, 1863 August 28-1863 December 31
Box 2CorrespondenceCorrespondence from third parties, 1864 January 1-1864 [ca.June], n.d.
Box 3 Sutlers' ReceiptsIssued by Hiram Bailey (127 receipts), 1863 September 3-October 17

Sutlers' ReceiptsIssued by E. L. Donnelly (178 receipts)

Sutlers' ReceiptsIssued by H. Hodgdon (117 receipts), 1863 September 12-October 17

Sutlers' ReceiptsIssued by Margaret M. Murphy (177 receipts), 1863 September 14-1864 January 28

Sutlers' ReceiptsReceipts issued by Capt. J. N. Patterson, 1863 November 30-1864 April 19
Box 4 Sutlers' ReceiptsL.H. James receipts, 1863 October 1-December 25

Sutlers' ReceiptsL.H. James receipts, December 27, 1863-January 31, 1864
Box 5Sutlers' ReceiptsL.H. James receipts, February 1-April 13, 1864

Miscellaneous items


Gift of James S. Schoff, 1976

Hints for web users:

The indexes listed above are arranged in chronological order, not by the name of prisoner, writer, or recipient. The best way to find a particular prisoner is by performing a search on the web site, entering the last name first. If time permits, we will establish a separate search engine for the Point Lookout collection alone.

Most of these files are quite large and will take considerable time to load, so please be patient.

The names and regiments listed are as given on the documents themselves, and have not been fully verified for spelling (which varies considerably) or accuracy. If you know of additional information on prisoners listed, please inform the Manuscripts Department.

Most items are of a routine nature, and one receipt does look pretty much like another. If you would like copies of any items, however, please carefully note all information provided (writer, prisoner, and date for letters; sutler, prisoner and date for receipts) and place your request with the Curator of Manuscripts. Costs are 50 cents per exposure, plus postage and handling and a $5.00 service charge. Please read our Rules and regulations pertaining to photocopying.

Cat. 10/97 rsc

Link to subject index to the Point Lookout Prison Camp Records

Alphabetic index to the Schoff Civil War Collections

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