Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Additional Research on the Confederate Prisoner of War Camp During the Civil War on Hart's Island in the Town of Pelham


As I have written before, a prisoner of war camp once stood within the Town of Pelham during the final weeks of the Civil War.  The POW camp opened the very month the war ended as Union troops overran the Confederacy and sent waves of captured troops northward during the final weeks of the war. 

Pelham's prison, opened to accept troops in early April 1865, operated until the last Confederate prisoners were released from the facility in July 1865.  The POW camp stood on the north end of Hart Island (also known as Hart's Island) which, at the time, was part of the Town of Pelham.  The northern tip of the island was a lowland area. There, lightly-constructed prison "barracks" were built.  The barracks were basically open to the elements with open windows and a door on only one side of the building (to reduce avenues of possible escape). 

I have written before about the Confederate prisoner of war camp in the Town of Pelham. For examples, see

Mon., Feb. 22, 2016:  Report on Prisoner Deaths at the Confederate POW Camp in Pelham During the Civil War.

Wed., Oct. 21, 2015:  Ministering to Troops on Hart and Davids Islands During and Shortly After the Civil War

Thu., Jun. 12, 2014:  Eyewitness Account of Prisoner of War Concentration Camp That Once Stood in Pelham

Fri., May 21, 2010:  The Announcement of President Abraham Lincoln's Assassination in Pelham, NY on April 15, 1865

Mon., Mar. 29, 2010:  Nathaniel H. Bouldin, a Poor Confederate Prisoner of War Who Died in Pelham in 1865

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog provides additional research with information about the prisoner of war camp and details the horrendous conditions of the Pelham POW camp.  

It took weeks to close the prisoner of war camp in Pelham after the war ended.  In addition to the logistics of releasing prisoners capable of traveling for their return to the south, there was the added difficulty of dealing with the many, many sick prisoners who could not simply walk away from the facility.

Various reports issued shortly after the close of the war and contained in the seminal Official Records of the war detail some of the many issues that arose at the time.  It turns out that scurvy was a major problem among the prisoners of war due to the lack of fresh foods with sufficient Vitamin C.  Indeed, nearly eight weeks after the war ended there were still efforts underway to have fresh vegetables delivered to the camp to aid the scurvy-ridden remaining prisoners.  Indeed, in response to a request from the commander of the prisoner of war camp, Brigadier General H. W. Wessels on June 7, 1865, the Commissary General of Prisoners, Brevet Brigadier General W. Hoffman issued an authorization for the purchase of vegetables "so far as they are deemed indispensable by the surgeon charge" on June 9, 1865.

As the month of June, 1865 drew to a close, efforts to disperse the remaining sick prisoners and close the prisoner of war camp on Hart Island rose to a fever pitch.  The efforts were as much an effort to reduce costs as they were to free the ill prisoners.  Thus, on June 20, 1865, an army Medical Inspector, Lieutenant Colonel George H. Lyman, requested the Medical Inspector-General of the United States Army to authorize all sick Rebel prisoners in the prison hospital and all healthy Rebel hospital attendants working in the prison hospital to be transferred to the medical facilities on nearby David's Island to permit closure of the prison hospital.  Within days the necessary approvals had been granted.  

Pelham's sad time as the site of a terrible Civil War prisoner of war camp was nearing its end.  Only weeks later, the facility closed for the last time, still a blemish on the history of the Town.


"HART ISLAND, NEAR NEW YORK, A STATION FOR THE
DISBANDMENT OF THE FEDERAL ARMY." 1865 Engraving
Depicting the Military Facilities on Hart Island Only Months
After the Last Confederate Prisoners Left the Island in July.
47, No. 1328, p. 128. NOTE: Click on Image to Enlarge.


Detail from 1867 Map Showing Hart Island on the Far Right.
The Northern End of the Island, on this Map, is Depicted as
Rochelle, Westchester Co." in Atlas of New York and Vicinity
From Actual Surveys by and Under the Direction of F. W.
Beers, Assisted by Geo. E. Warner & Others," p. 7 (NY, NY:
Beers, Ellis & Soule, 1867). NOTE: Click on Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          *

Below is the text of various entries from the Official Record.  Each is followed by a citation and link to its source.  

"OFFICE COMMISSARY-GENERAL OF PRISONERS,
Washington, D.C., June 9, 1865.

Brig. Gen. H. W. WESSELLS,
Commanding Hart's Island, New York Harbor, N.Y.:

GENERAL:  In reply to your letter of the 7th instant in reference to the tendency to scurvy among the prisoners of war at Hart's Island I beg to say that General Orders, No. 109, inclosed [sic] to you yesterday, will very soon relieve you of all the prisoners, and in the meantime, if you find it desirable, you can order the purchase of vegetables from the prison fund so far as they are deemed indispensable by the surgeon charge.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

W. HOFFMAN,
Bvt. Brig. Gen., U.S. Army, Commissary-General of Prisoners"

Source:  The War of the Rebellion:  A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series II, Vol. VIII, pp. 647-48 (Washington, D.C.:  Government Printing Office, 1899).  

"DEPOT FOR PRISONERS OF WAR,
Hart's Island, N.Y., June 20, 1865.

MEDICAL INSPECTOR-GENERAL U.S. ARMY:

COLONEL:  I have just completed the inspection at this depot, required by your order of June 17, respecting the causes of mortality, &c., among the prisoners.  The camp will be cleared of prisoners during the week, and as my report will necessarily be delayed in completion for a few days, I would respectfully recommend that those remaining in hospital be transferred to Davids Island; that the hospital attendants (who are prisoners) may also be discharged.  General Wessells informs me that he will require authority from the Commissary-General of Prisoners, also an order to the medical director, to authorize the transfer.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant, 
GEO. H. LYMAN,
Lieutenant-Colonel and Medical Inspector, U. S. Army.

[First Indorsement. [sic]]

MEDICAL INSPECTOR-GENERAL'S OFFICE, June 22, 1865.
Respectfully referred to the Surgeon-General U.S. Army.
JNO. M. CUYLER, 
Medical Inspector, U.S. Army, Actg. Medical Inspector-General.

[Second Indorsement. [sic]]

SURGEON-GENERAL'S OFFICE, June 23, 1865.

Respectfully referred to Medical Director Sloan, U.S. Army, for remark.

By order of the Surgeon-General:  

W.C. SPENCER,
Assistant Surgeon, U.S. Army.

[Third indorsement. [sic]]

MEDICAL DIRECTOR'S OFFICE, DEPT. OF THE EAST,
New York, June 24, 1865.

Respectfully returned, with the sick rebel prisoners remaining at Hart's Island (thirty-seven in number) are now in the post hospital at that post.  There is no objection to their transfer to De Camp Hospital, Davids Island.  

WM. F. EDGAR,

Surg., U.S. Army, Acting Medical Director, Dept. of the East."

Source:  The War of the Rebellion:  A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series II, Vol. VIII, pp. 660-61 (Washington, D.C.:  Government Printing Office, 1899).  

"OFFICE COMMISSARY-GENERAL OF PRISONERS,

Washington, D. C., June 29, 1865.

Brig. Gen. J. K. BARNES, Surgeon-General U.S. Army:

GENERAL:  In reference to the transfer of prisoners of war from the hospital at Hart's Island to the general hospital at Davids Island, as recommended by the medical director Department of the East, I have respectfully to request that you will give the necessary instructions for their reception at Davids Island and I will order the commanding officer at Hart's Island to make the transfer.  It will be necessary that the medical officer who received them should make the required reports to this office of their receipt, discharge, &c.  All necessary blanks and instructions will be furnished from this office.  

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant, 

W. HOFFMAN,
Bvt. Brig. Gen., U.S. Army, Commissary-General of Prisoners."

Source:  The War of the Rebellion:  A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series II, Vol. VIII, p. 684 (Washington, D.C.:  Government Printing Office, 1899).


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