IMPRISONED AT CAMP MORTON
My cousin Almon Gibbs Clore was born in Boone County, Kentucky on March 20, 1828. He enlisted in 1862 to fight with Capt. Corbin’s Men. His opportunity to do so was shortlived, as his death at age 34 occurred on August 15, 1862, in the Union Federal Prison Camp Morton in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Also imprisoned at Camp Morton was Saraiah Deering Lashbrook. Born in Daviess County, Kentucky, on January 29, 1842, Lashbrook enlisted in the 1st Regiment Kentucky Cavalry and was wounded and captured at the battle of the Sacotchee Valley, TN, on May 9, 1864. He arrived at Camp Morton on May 22, 1864, and died there on February 23, 1865, of chronic diarrhea.
The Union erected Camp Morton on about twenty acres of ground that they had formerly used as a fairground. They enclosed the camp by a plank wall 20 feet high. A rivulet ran through the middle of the camp, with sheds on both sides. The flimsy sheds were constructed of planks with gaps through which the winter winds blew. In some “barracks,” which housed 320 men each, there were four tiers of bunks on each side, extending toward the center. The lowest tier was one foot off the ground; the second was three feet above the first and so on. Prisoners had about two feet each, with their heads next to the wide cracks of the wall and their feet toward the building’s center. Some of the sheds did not even have bunks, so the prisoners had to sleep on the damp, cold ground.
Each man was given one blanket, but during a winter night it often became covered by snow which drifted or blew through the walls. During the winter of 1863-65, temperatures fell to twenty below zero. Gangrene from untreated frostbite was an issue, causing many deaths.
Prisoners were virtually walking skeletons, given meager daily rations. The prisoners supplemented their diet by harvesting the camp’s rat population. In the crowded squalid sheds, vermin and parasites combined with a lack of sanitary facilities to contribute to the prisoners’ health issues. As if that weren’t enough, it was said that the prisoners also suffered mental and physical abuse from the guards, who shot or bludgeoned them to death for minor infractions. Two thousand young Confederate soldiers died at Camp Morton.
CONDITIONS BEYOND BELIEF AT BELLE ISLE, RICHMOND
Julius Yewell Wilhoit was born on October 4, 1824 in Edgar County, Illinois. He joined the Union forces as a sergeant with Co. H, 79th Illinois Infantry. After capture, he was imprisoned at Belle Isle, outside Richmond, Virginia, where he died on March 11, 1864.
Between 1862 and 1865, Belle Isle was home to about 30,000 prisoners; as many as 1,000 died there. No barracks were ever built for the prisoners, so their continuous exposure played a large role in the camp’s death toll.
Exposure was not the only problem facing the prisoners of Belle Isle, however. In April 1864, Peter DeWitt, Assistant Surgeon at Jarvis Hospital, Baltimore, had treated a number of prisoners recently released from Belle Isle. Here is how he described the “great majority” of the patients:
in a semi-state of nudity . . . laboring under such diseases as chronic diarrhoea, phthisis pulmonalis, scurvy, frost bites, general debility, caused by starvation, neglect and exposure. Many of them had partially lost their reason, forgetting even the date of their capture, and everything connected with their antecedent history. They resemble, in many respect, patients laboring under cretinism. They were filthy in the extreme, covered in vermin . . . nearly all were extremely emaciated; so much so that they had to be cared for even like infants.
In May 1864, Lucius Eugene Chittenden, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under President Lincoln, was sent by the president to investigate the situation at Belle Isle. His eyewitness account was published in the late 1890s in Recollections of President Lincoln and His Administration. He wrote:
It is difficult to find excuse or apology for the treatment of the prisoners at Belle Isle, and I doubt if such will ever be attempted. . . . I did not see them at their worst, but even at the time of my visit the scene transcended description. It sickened me; and the recollection of its sad and tragic features served to keep sleep from my eyes during the greater part of the ensuing night. . . . [He reported to President Lincoln, saying,] “You would like to know what I have seen? I cannot tell you. Imagine, if you can, a body of stalwart, strong men, such as you may see in any of our camps, robbed of their money, blankets, overcoats, boots and clothing, covered with rags, driven like foxes into holes on an island, exposed there to frost and cold until their frozen extremities drop from their bleeding stumps; fed upon husks, such as the swine in the parable would have rejected, until, by exhaustion, their manhood is crushed out, their minds destroyed, and their bodies, foul with filth and disease, are brought to the very borders of the grave, which will close upon more than half of them, and you may get some faint conception of what may be seen at Annapolis. But it will be very faint. The picture cannot be comprehended even when it is seen!”