Union Prison Camp
[Letter to the Wall Street Journal, 3/26/96]
Robert Goldberg’s Feb. 26 review of the two-part TV series on Andersonville (“Hell’s 26 Acres”) has raised one of my pet peeves. Throughout my 77 years, whenever the subject of Civil War prison camps was discussed, I heard only about Andersonville. Yet there was an even more heinous hellhole (because there was far less excuse for it) right here in St. Mary’s County, a scant 86 miles from our nation’s capital. Here, more than 4,000 Confederate prisoners perished in 18 months due to privation and disease; and in a climate far less temperate than Andersonville’s.
The Point Lookout prison camp began in July 1863 when Gen. Gilman Marston arrived with nearly 200 Confederate captives and the 2nd and 12th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry Regiments. By October 1863 more than 7,000 prisoners were held in a swampy compound with water on three sides. Given the resources available to the Union side (whereas the South was virtually destitute), I can muster far more sympathy for one-armed Capt. Wirz, commander of Andersonville, than I can for the Union camp commanders who permitted the atrocities at Point Lookout. It is amazing that historians can so conveniently ignore the cruelty practiced there while continuing to harp about Andersonville.
Colin F. Burch Jr.
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