Prisoner of War Camp Morton

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Civil War Prison Camp Morton
Civil War Camp Morton.jpg
POW Camp Morton in 1864

The following article is from the Confederate Veteran, Vol. VI, No. 12, Nashville, Tennessee, December 1898.

Elder J. K. Womack
That den of misery a little north of Indianapolis, known as Camp Morton, was constructed as a fair ground. Temporary stables for horses were erected in long rows. These were converted into barracks for Confederate prisoners.
In the fall of 1863, soon after the battle of Chickamauga, Gen. Joe Wheeler made a raid into Middle Tennessee, during which event Joel Womack, Jim Hood, Pete Donald, Jeff Barlow, Josh Dillon, Will Pickett, and I were captured, near Cainsville, Tenn. We were first placed in jail at Murfreesboro, sent from there to the penitentiary in Nashville, thence to the barracks in Louisville, and finally to Camp Morton. There was not a bunk in the division, so our bed during that winter was an oilcloth spread upon the earth in the aisle of these barracks. Those who had preceded us were in much want. They were dirty, pale, emaciated, ragged, and lousy. Only a few had a change of clothing. We slept in our clothing every night to keep from freezing. There were two hundred and fifty prisoners in No. 7, and about four thousand in the prison. Those who had occasion to be up at night walked upon us unavoidably, as we slept in the only outlet. We were often spit upon at night by comrades who had colds. Camp life as a Confederate soldier was hard, but prison life in Camp Morton was harder. Daily rations were eaten immediately upon being issued. We were supplied with one loaf of bread and one small piece of beef, and nothing more. It happened occasionally that we would draw this about eight o'clock in the morning, and then not get any more until the following day, late in the evening. When this was the case we became so hungry that we would stand and look for the wagons to come through the gates with our bread. Sometimes, by stealth, we would pick up potato peelings thrown out from the cook rooms, roll them into balls, and cook and eat them with a relish. The beef bones were broken into small pieces, boiled in clear water, the grease dipped off and poured into a saucer, and sold as bone butter at ten cents a half cake. Crawfish were caught in the ditches, boiled, their pinchers pulled off when hot, and then converted into most excellent soup. A cutler's dog, killed and barbecued, furnished food that we relished.
Every man who was able to walk was required to fall in line for roll call about sunrise each morning. The Yankee sergeant who called the roll for our division was named Fiffer. I never heard a kind word fall from his lips. He was about grown and really a demon in human flesh. I have seen him walk through our barracks with a heavy stick in his hand, striking right and left on the heads, faces, backs, or stomachs of the poor, starving prisoners, as though they were so many reptiles, crying out: "This is the way you whip your Negroes." I dislike to write this, but it ought to go down in history.
Our division was not the only one that suffered from inhuman treatment. Division No. 12, near the center of the camps, had a sergeant named Baker. One bitter cold morning while we were standing in line stamping the earth to keep from freezing a pistol shot was heard, and immediately the piteous cries of a prisoner were wafted to our ears. The poor fellow had stepped a little out of line at roll call, and for this crime(?) was shot down. I saw Fiffer strike prisoners over the head with a loaded pistol.
Death had thinned our ranks so much during the first winter that we had a bunk the next. We were packed in like sardines on our sides in spoon fashion. When one became tired he would cry out, "Turn!" when all would turn from right to left or left to right. We existed in this condition, with the thermometer below zero, in open stables without door shutters, hungry, and shivering with cold, having only one stove for two hundred and fifty men. How good a piece of corn bread from home would have been at that time! While memory lasts I can never forget the great war and that cruel prison.

Recommended Reading: To Die in Chicago: Confederate Prisoners at Camp Douglas 1862-65 (Hardcover) (446 pages). Description: The author’s research is exacting, methodical, and painstaking. He brought zero bias to the enterprise and the result is a stunning achievement that is both scholarly and readable. Douglas, the "accidental" prison camp, began as a training camp for Illinois volunteers. Donalson and Island #10 changed that. The long war that no one expected… combined with inclement weather – freezing temperatures - primitive medical care and the barbarity of the captors created in the author’s own words "a death camp." Stanton's and Grant's policy of halting the prisoner exchange behind the pretense of Fort Pillow accelerated the suffering. Continued below.

In the latest edition, Levy found the long lost hospital records at the National Archives which prove conclusively that casualties were deliberately “under reported.” Prisoners were tortured, brutality was tolerated and corruption was widespread. The handling of the dead rivals stories of Nazi Germany. The largest mass grave in the Western Hemisphere is filled with....the bodies of Camp Douglas dead, 4200 known and 1800 unknown. No one should be allowed to speak of Andersonville until they have absorbed the horror of Douglas, also known as “To Die in Chicago.”

Related Reading:

Recommended Reading: Portals to Hell: Military Prisons of the Civil War. Description: The military prisons of the Civil War, which held more than four hundred thousand soldiers and caused the deaths of fifty-six thousand men, have been nearly forgotten. Lonnie R. Speer has now brought to life the least-known men in the great struggle between the Union and the Confederacy, using their own words and observations as they endured a true “hell on earth.” Continued below...
Drawing on scores of previously unpublished firsthand accounts, Portals to Hell presents the prisoners’ experiences in great detail and from an impartial perspective. The first comprehensive study of all major prisons of both the North and the South, this chronicle analyzes the many complexities of the relationships among prisoners, guards, commandants, and government leaders. It is available in paperback and hardcover.


Recommended Reading: So Far from Dixie: Confederates in Yankee Prisons (Hardcover: 312 pages). Description: This book is the gripping history of five men who were sent to Elmira, New York's infamous POW camp, and survived to document their stories. You will hear and even envision the most stirring and gripping true stories of each soldier that lived and survived the most horrible nightmares of the conflict while tortured and even starved as "THE PRISONER OF WAR."


Recommended Reading: The True Story of Andersonville Prison: A Defense of Major Henry Wirz. Description: During the Civil War, James Madison Page was a prisoner in different places in the South. Seven months of that time was spent at Andersonville. While at that prison, he became well acquainted with Major Wirz – who had previously held the rank of captain. Page takes the stand and states that "Captain Wirz was unjustly held responsible for the hardship and mortality of Andersonville." It was his belief that both Federal and Confederate authorities must share culpability. Why? Because the Union knew the inability of the Confederacy to meet the reasonable wants of its prisoners of war, as it lacked supplies for its own needs – particularly for its Confederate soldiers - and since the Federal authorities failed to exercise a humane policy in the exchange of those captured in battle... that policy was commonly referred to as prisoner exchange. Continued below.

The writer, "with malice toward none and charity for all", denies conscious prejudice, and makes the sincere endeavor to put himself in the other fellow's place and make such a statement of the matter in hand as will satisfy all lovers of truth and justice.
Recommended Reading: The Life of Johnny Reb: The Common Soldier of the Confederacy (444 pages) (Louisiana State University Press) (Updated edition: November 2007) Description: The Life of Johnny Reb does not merely describe the battles and skirmishes fought by the Confederate foot soldier. Rather, it provides an intimate history of a soldier's daily life--the songs he sang, the foods he ate, the hopes and fears he experienced, the reasons he fought. Wiley examined countless letters, diaries, newspaper accounts, and official records to construct this frequently poignant, sometimes humorous account of the life of Johnny Reb. In a new foreword for this updated edition, Civil War expert James I. Robertson, Jr., explores the exemplary career of Bell Irvin Wiley, who championed the common folk, whom he saw as ensnared in the great conflict of the 1860s. Continued below.
About Johnny Reb:
"A Civil War classic."--Florida Historical Quarterly
"This book deserves to be on the shelf of every Civil War modeler and enthusiast."--Model Retailer
"[Wiley] has painted with skill a picture of the life of the Confederate private. . . . It is a picture that is not only by far the most complete we have ever had but perhaps the best of its kind we ever shall have."--Saturday Review of Literature

Facts regarding Prisoner of War Camp Morton History, American Civil War Treatment of Confederate Soldiers Prisoners of War Treatment by Union Army, Yankees, Southerners, Confederates Starved, Tortured, Beaten and Abused.

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