[search options]

Prisons

Photograph of Castle Thunder, Richmond, Va., 1865.Nearly 500,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were imprisoned during the Civil War.
About 10 percent of these soldiers died in prison from battle wounds, disease, and unhealthy conditions. Prominent prisons in Virginia included Libby Prison, Belle Isle, Castle Thunder, and Danville Prison.

How to Search the Catalogs:

Conduct a keyword or subject search heading in the catalog using the following examples of Library of Congress subject headings.

Richmond (Va.) History Civil War, 1861-1865 Prisoners and prisons
Virginia History Civil War, 1861-1865 Prisoners and prisons
Libby Prison

Selected Published Resources

Coburn, Jacob Osborn. Hell on Belle Isle: Diary of a Civil War POW: Journal of Sgt. Jacob Osborn Coburn. Bryan, Ohio: Faded Banner Publications, 1997.

Parker, Sandra V. Richmond's Civil War Prisons. 1st ed. Lynchburg, Va.: H. E. Howard, 1990.

Robertson, James I. “Houses of Horror: Danville's Civil War Prisons.” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 69 (1961): 329–345.

Sanders, Charles W. While in the Hands of the Enemy: Military Prisons of the Civil War. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2005.

Speers, Lonnie R. Portals to Hell: Military Prisons of the Civil War. Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 1997.

Selected Manuscript Collections

Confederate States of America. Bureau of Exchange of Prisoners of War. Letter Book, 29 November 1862–31 March 1865. Accession 19969.
Letter book, 29 November 1862–31 March 1865, pertaining to the exchange and treatment of Confederate and Union prisoners of war. All letters were written by Robert Ould, Commissioner and Agent of Exchange for the Confederate States of America. The majority of the four hundred letters are addressed to William H. Ludlow, Sullivan A. Meredith, and John E. Mulford, U.S. Agents of Exchange. Other recipients include Pierre G. T. Beauregard, Jefferson Davis, Ulysses S. Grant, and Robert E. Lee. Most of the letters were printed in The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series II, Vols. 4–8. (Click Here for Cornell University's Online Access to War of the Rebellion)

George Williamson Finley. Papers, 19051909. Accession 23927.
Papers, 1905–1909, of George W. Finley (1838–1909) of Augusta County, Virginia, consisting of an obituary, 1905, for Margaret Elizabeth Booker Finley (1840–1905); a Confederate service record of George Williamson Finley; and a letter, August 1908, from Finley to the Reverend C. H. Dobbs containing an account of Finley's time as a Union prisoner of war from 3 July 1863 to 14 May 1865.

Letter of Capt. J. R. ShafferAndrew Jackson Hopkins. Papers, 18641910. Accession 37063.
Papers, 1864–1910, of Andrew Jackson Hopkins (1832–1912), including letters and photographs, and copies of pension records and published sources. The letters begin on 2 February 1864 and document Hopkins's imprisonment in Libby Prison in Richmond, and his wife's efforts to secure his release. Also included are letters from other soldiers who were in prison with Hopkins and who are writing to his wife concerning his welfare. There is also material concerning Hopkins's career after the war, including an engineer's certificate, a signed petition recommending his reinstatement into his former position at the Norfolk Navy Yard, a letter of reprimand, and notes by him regarding his military service. There are also copies of Hopkins's pension records on file at the National Archives, as well as copies from published sources concerning Libby Prison and the U.S. Army gunboat Smith Briggs on which Hopkins was serving when he was captured.

Sketch of Johnson's Island Prison by Wesley Makely, ca. 1863.Makely Family. Papers, 18591865. Accession 27034. (Click Here for Finding Aid)
Papers, 1859–1865, of the Makely family of Alexandria, Virginia. The bulk of the collection consists of letters written between Wesley (1835–1865) and Catherine Makely (1840–1927), while Wesley was in prison at Johnson's Island, Ohio. In the letters, Catherine Makely is addressed by her nickname, Kate, and Wesley Makely by his nickname Nessa. Topics include family, health, care packages, jewelry made by camp prisoners, attempts to obtain a parole for Wesley Makely, weather, and prison regulations. Of note is a day book, dated 1863–1865, kept by Wesley Makely at Johnson's Island. The daybook contains an alphabetical list of prisoners held at Johnson's Island, including their names, ranks, regiments, residences, places captured, and dates. The daybook also includes lists of prisoners who died at Johnson's Island, lists of generals, lieutenant generals, major generals, and brigadier generals in the Confederate army, a sketch of the prison compound, and poetry written by prisoners.

Questionnaire of John J. Sherman, 1865. Accession 39384 Questionnaire of John J. Sherman, 1865. Accession 39384, page 2 Questionnaire of John J. Sherman, 1865. Accession 39384, page 3 Questionnaire of John J. Sherman, 1865. Accession 39384, page 4 John J. Sherman. Questionnaire, 1865. Accession 39384.
Prisoner of war questionnaire, 1865, from the Bureau of Military Record, State of New York. The questionnaire was filled out by John J. Sherman of the 9th New York Heavy Artillery, Company G, who was held prisoner in Libby Prison and Belle Island, Richmond, Virginia, and Salisbury prison, North Carolina from August 1864 until February 1865. Sherman answers questions and includes a personal narrative about his imprisonment and treatment by the Confederate army.

Virginia. Department of Military Affairs. Dept. of Confederate Military Records. Lists of Confederate Soldiers who Died in Union Prisons, 1907–1915. Accession 26784. (Click Here for Finding Aid)
Lists of Confederate soldiers who died in Union prisons, 1907–1915, compiled by Major Joseph V. Bidgood for the Department of Confederate Military Records. These lists contain names of Confederate soldiers, their regiments, and burial places transcribed from monuments and headstones. One list provides names of Confederate soldiers who died in either Confederate or Union hospitals in Harrodsburg, Lexington, and Danville, Kentucky. Another list provides the names of Confederate soldiers who died in a railroad accident near Shohola, Pennsylvania. The majority of the lists, however, document the deaths of Confederate soldiers in more than thirty Union prisons in twelve states. The lists are arranged by Union prison.