Hell on Earth
In Memory to all of the CSA
prisoners of war at Elmira.
I became interested in Elmira when I
learned that my 2nd great-grandfather had died there. Well, I thought,
many died in Union Prisons during the war. I wanted to know all about this
place called Elmira, N. Y.. I will be transcribing all the microfilm
for this page. Please check back often as there are many rolls. I
also plan on having Ship Island, and New Orleans, La. records added to the
site. If you have any information on anyone that was held prisoner by the
Union please share it with me and I will include it on the web site if you like.
Be sure and see the news article "Prison Experience in Elmira, N. Y."
Prisons, Paroles & POWs
Elmira Prison "Hellmira"
Almost 25 percent of the 12,123 Confederate soldiers who entered the 40-acre
prisoner of war camp at Elmira, NY, died. This death rate was more than double
the average death rate in other Northern prison camps, and only 2 percent less
than the death rate at the infamous Southern prison at Andersonville, GA. The
deaths at Elmira were caused by diseases brought on by terrible living
conditions and starvation, conditions deliberately caused by the vindictive U.S.
commissary-general of prisoners, Col. William Hoffman. The conditions were
inexcusable; the North had more than enough food and materials for its armies,
population, and prisoners.
A stockade was built around an unused Union army training camp to create Elmira
Prison in June 1864. The prison contained 35 barracks and was intended to house
as many as 5,000 prisoners. On July 6 the first 400 arrived, and by the end of
the month there were more than 4,400 prisoners, with more on the way. By the end
of August almost 10,000 men were confined there, many of them sleeping in the
open in tattered clothes and without blankets.
On August 18, in retaliation for the conditions in Southern prison camps,
Colonel Hoffman ordered that rations for the prisoners be reduced to bread and
water. The overcrowded conditions ensured that any disease introduced to the
malnourished population would spread rapidly. Without meat or vegetables, the
prisoners quickly succumbed to scurvy, with 1,870 cases reported by September
11. The scurvy was followed by an epidemic of diarrhea, then pneumonia and
smallpox. By the end of the year, 1,264 prisoners had died, and survivors had
nicknamed the prison "Hellmira". The winter was bitterly cold, but
when Southern families sent clothes for the prisoners, Hoffman would only allow
items that were gray to be distributed. Clothes in other colors were burned
while the sons and husbands for whom they were intended literally froze to
death. By the end of the war, 2,963 Elmira prisoners were dead.
Fascinating Fact: Before resigning to avoid court-martial for his
criminal treatment of sick prisoners, the chief surgeon at Elmira was overheard
boasting that he had killed more Rebels than any Union soldier.
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