Columbia Military Prison
Union Officer POW Camps

  By January 1862, some captured Federal officers and enlisted men were being housed in both Charleston in Castle Pinkney and Columbia in Richland County Jail. During the period of May-November 1862, Captain Thomas P. Whitesides' Co. of York District served as prison guards for 80 Federal prisoners. This company was assembled at Camp Johnson, Lightwood Knot Springs, north of Columbia, on 25 April 1862, and upon mustering into Confederate service on 13 May was designated Co. H, __ Battalion SC Volunteers. The battalion designation was left blank because it was apparently intended that the company would become the 8th company in either the 1st (Charleston) Battalion SC Infantry, or the 3rd (James') Battalion SC Infantry, should either of those organizations be increased to a regiment. Neither became a regiment, and in November 1862, Whitesides' company was instead assigned to the 5th SC infantry. The company left for Virginia on 17 Nov, and joined the regiment in camp at Fredericksburg on 24 Nov, where it became Co. G. In addition to Whitesides, the company officers were 1st Lieutenant James M. Bird, 2nd Lieutenant J. C. Jackson, and 3rd Lieutenant H. Nichols. In some accounts, the Richland County Jail is referred to as the "Jailhouse Prison" but generally as "Richland Jail", a 2 story building that was 70 feet long and 50 feet wide. By the fall of 1863, there were in excess of 300 men housed there. These individuals confined there with captured Union Soldiers, some Tories (Union Sympathizers), and Southern Deserters, along with the other criminals. The POWs appear to be those taken in battle in South Carolina and a large percentage were Naval Officers captured in and around Charleston harbor. Union officers were housed within the cells of the jail and the non-commissioned officers and enlisted men were kept in tents in the grounds if the Jail.

There were plans all during the war to build a large POW camp near Columbia. Both the Governor and the Mayor of Columbia, citing military needs (keep closer to Union for exchange) and logisitics (the South was hard pressed for any resource and movement of POWs would consume many) were opposed. The more likely reason for the Mayor is that any POW camp would cause food shortages and sky high prices. They were able to keep the number down.

  By the end of The War, Union prisoners were segregated by rank into different prisons. It was thought that by separating officers and enlisted men escapes would be reduced. Prior to 1864, there were 3 major camps:
        1) Camp Sumter, Andersonville, Georgia for non-commissioned officers ( * )
        2) Camp Oglethorpe, Macon, Georgia for company grade officers (mostly Captains and Lieutenants)
        3) Libby Prison, Richmond, Virginia, for Majors, Colonels, and Generals.
and there was some mixing of prisoners, but this was the general structure of the Confederate Military Prison system.

There were other prisons thruout the Southern sates including Salisbury. North Carolina, which housed POWs from 1861 until troops under General George Stoneman burned the prison buildings April 12-13, 1865. The new prison designed to hold 2,000 would eventually overflow with 10,000 or more. Between 6,500 and 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. now encompassed in Salisbury National Cemetery

  With Richmond under heavy pressure, many of the officers at Libby Prison were sent South. Per yhe diary of 2nd Lieutenant George A. Chandler, 5th Maine Infantry, they left Libby Prison 6 or 7 May 1864, then to Danville, VA, Greensboro, NC, Charlotte, NC, Columbia, Augusta, GA, and then Camp Oglethorpe, Macon, GA by 17 May 1864. Some others were sent to Andersonville. After the fall of Atlanta, it became apparent that the Georgia Camps were also under threat. General John Henry Winder, commander of all Confederate military prisons east of the Mississippi River, ordered the able bodied prisoners from Andersonville and Macon towards the coast. On 24 July 1864, 600 left prison for Charleston, South Carolina. They were housed all around town but mainly at the Charleston City Jail. On 28 July 1864, 600 more left prison for Savannah, (George included), and were housed on the Old U.S. Marine Hospital grounds. On 29 July 1864, the last of them, about 600, were sent to Savannah. On 13 Sept 1864, they left Savannah for Charleston to be housed at Charleston City jail yard. As the pressure on Charleston increased, the decision was made to move them inland, 5 Oct 1864.

Camp Sorghum

  The enlisted men were sent to the newly established Florence Stockade. The transportation of large numbers of Federal officers to Columbia occurred after General Sherman's Army of the West penetrated deeply into adjacent Georgia and numerous military prisons there were hurriedly evacuated, with their inhabitants transferred to Charleston, South Carolina. On 29 September, Major General Samuel Jones, decided to transfer the accumulated Federal officers, estimated at 1,400 (some estimates range as high as 1,800), from Charleston to Columbia, escorted by the 32nd Georgia Volunteers and 1 or more companies of the 8th Battalion, SC Senior Reserves. The train ride afforded another opportunity to escape, which many did per diary of 1st Lieutenant Alonzo Cooper, 12 New York Cavalry, Company F
Technically, Major General Jones had no authority to order the transfer of the prisoners. His failure to communicate his plans to Brigadier-General William M. Gardner, (the officer in charge of Confederate military prisons east of the Mississippi River) contributed materially to the poor conditions that prisoners had to endure at Columbia.
The officers were met at the depot by a group of Military Cadets from The Arsenal and escorted to the Columbia Military Prison. It appears that the enlisted men in Richland Jail may have been sent to Florence but I have been able to find so few of them that I am not sure. It is clear that most of the US Naval Officers were put into the Jail, perhaps because there was some pending exchange talks.
Located near Columbia,

  Daily life ar Camp Sorghum was hard and consisted of finding a way to make do, to get thru another day. Due to the lack of any security features, escapes were common and of those imprisoned there, around 25% escaped by one estimate I have seen, of which over 375 were succesful. Many were recaptured and returned. Conditions were terrible, with little food, clothing or medicine. Disease was a major problem within the Camp and among the guards, with deaths noted of both POWs and guards. Some POW's recorded their experiences after The War at Camp Sorghum.

Camp Lunacy / Camp Asylum


  On 12 December 1864, Camp Sorghum was deactivated with the remaining POWs (about 500) being moved to a much more secure and hospitable facility, the State Lunatic Asylum (hence the nicknames Camp Lunacy and Camp Asylum), located on the present site of the South Carolina State Hospital on Bull Street. In addition, the remaining Officers at The Richland Jail appear to have been moved to the Asylum. These officers appear to have been mostly made of of those captured in late spring and ear;y summer arounf Petersvurg. By this time, both the 32nd Georgia and 1st SC Artillery, Company K had been removed and a replaced by a detachment of Artillery under the command of a Lieutenant Holyland and another company from 8th Battalion of State Troops, Company C., The POWs were not housed with the mental patients but were confined in a large open space within the asylum walls behind the male dormitory, at the corner of Calhoun and Barnwell Streets. A board fence was erected to separate the prisoners from the patients, and they were given materials with which to build shelters. While supplies remained limited, at least there was a roof to sleep under and escape the cold.

  With rumors rife regarding a raid on Columbia, on 12 Feb 1865, Colonel C H Forno requested advise as to the course to be adopted for the security of the 1,200 Federal officers, prisoners of war, in the Asylum prison. In the face of Sherman's forces, a prison was being constructed at Killian's Mills, eleven miles from Columbia, on the Charlotte Railroad. The work was being urged forward as rapidly as possible, and the prison was designed to for the reception of over 15,000 prisoners by 22 February, including 7,000 enlisted men from Florence under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Iverson, and nearly 1,200 officers here under command of Major E. Griswold.
Between 13 & 14 February 1865, Company G of 2nd Battalion of State Troops escorted the remaining 1,200 prisoners to Charlotte, NC, and ultimately to Wilmington, NC, where those who had not escaped were turned over to Federal authorities during the first week of March 1865. Some of the POW's mingled with the mental patients and were freed when Sherman captured (then burned) an undefended Columbia, on 17 February 1865.

( * ) Note:
While Camp Sumter, Andersonville, GA was an enlisted man's prison, there were some officers held in a smaller stockade between Andersonville station and the prison stockade. The smaller stockade by the name "Castle Reed " was in operation from the end of February 1864 until May and about 65 officers werre confined. When the Confederate Forces became concerned about the overcrowding, they transfered the Union Officers to Macon where they were held at Camp Oglethorpe. This stockade was for officers only and was where the City Park is now located. It was on what was the original city fairgrounds and as I have been told, there is no marking at the site.
My opinion is that the officers were moved to Macon at the stop of exchanges since so many were dying at Andersonville, and with the " Value" of officers in trade being more than privates. This would help keep the more valuable prisoners alive so that when exchanges resumed, it would be more of an advantage to higher ranks to trade for more enlisted men.

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