Last Saturday a memorial service
was held at Point Lookout, Maryland. The event was the 12th annual
commemoration organized by the Point Lookout Prisoners-of-War Association.
Present were reenactors, vendors, and descendants of prisoners.
Also present were several speakers, though these were limited to
those vetted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which
insisted that the activities and messages be “viewpoint neutral.” Earlier,
a federal judge had rebuffed one speaker’s efforts to enjoin the
VA from censoring his intended remarks at the ceremony. The speaker’s
prospective offense? Criticizing the VA’s flag policy, which allows
the Confederate banner to fly there only one day a year during
the annual memorial event. The speaker gave his talk anyway, sans
the offensive passage. So much for freedom of speech!
The federal restrictions on
speech during the memorial service were sorry enough, but the story
of the camp itself is absolutely mind-boggling. During the two-year
span of operation at Point Lookout, the camp saw approximately
52,000 POWs pass through its gates—military and civilian, men,
women, even children. The youngest POW at Point Lookout was Baby
Perkins who was born there, his mother having been captured at
the Battle of Spotsylvania with her artillery unit.
Prison conditions were, to put
it mildly, deplorable. According to numerous eyewitness reports
and other publications, the prisoners were forced to discard anything
bearing the initials “U.S.,” which for almost all Confederates
meant more than half of their belongings. Only one blanket was
permitted among sixteen or more men who were crowded into threadbare
Sibley tents. Firewood and the essentials for health and comfort
were scarce. Below minimal rations caused scurvy and malnutrition.
Lice, disease, and chronic diarrhea often resulted in an infectious
death. According to one account, Confederate Sergeant Charles T.
Loehr, captured at the battle of Five Forks, received a rude awakening
his first night at the camp. He was one of forty men placed in
a tent designed for sixteen. Six or seven of the forty had died
by morning, including the two on either side of Loehr. Loehr wrote
that his captors were “negroes of the worst sort and very brutal;
when the prisoners were driven out of their tents at night by diarrhea,
the guards would make them carry them on their back; they were
quick-stepped about the grounds, forced to kneel and pray for Abe
Prisoners ate rats and raw fish.
One hungry prisoner devoured a raw seagull that had been washed
ashore. Soap skim and trash peelings were often eaten. Prisoners
had no shoes in winter. High water often flooded the tents in the
camp area. The undrained marshes bred mosquitoes. Malaria, typhoid
fever, and smallpox were common. The brackish water supply was
contaminated by unsanitary camp conditions. Prisoners were randomly
shot during the night as they slept or if they called out from
pain. Federal authorities refused to permit Marylanders to aid
the inmates with the bare necessities of life, and thousands of
prisoners died for lack of food, medical care, or proper sanitary
conditions. Moreover, the head of the camp, Provost Marshall (Major)
A.G. Brady, personally made in excess of $1,000,000 during his
time as camp commander by pilfering clothing and other necessities
Amazingly, the federal government
lists only 3,384 names which are inscribed on the monument plaques.
However, according to prisoners’ diaries and other reports, over
14,000 prisoners died while incarcerated in the camp. Only one “unknown” soldier
is listed on the monument, yet absent are 413 additional confirmed names
of those who died at Point Lookout. When the prisoners’ remains
were moved from Tanner’s Creek to the present cemetery, their skulls
were put in one box, the arm bones in another, and the leg bones
in a third box. The men who moved them were paid in accordance
with the number of skull bones. Frequently they would gamble with
the skull bones, and bones were dropped and left in the road. Children
walking to school would pick them up, not knowing what they were,
and take them to class for show-n-tell.
In its living conditions and
treatment of prisoners, Point Lookout has often been compared to
Andersonville, the Confederate prison for Union troops in Georgia.
Such comparisons are to be taken cum grano salis. The mortality
rate at Point Lookout was greater than that of the Confederate
prison at Andersonville. Moreover, the fatalities at Point Lookout
were due to unnecessary neglect, while those at Andersonville were
due to a real want in the Confederacy as a whole. The United States
War Department’s official statistics showed that more Southern
prisoners died in Northern camps than did Northern soldiers in
Southern camps. The death rate in Northern camps was approximately
twelve percent, while the death rate in Southern camps was about
nine percent. The people of the South were starving by the end
of the war and couldn’t feed their own troops, but the North had
no such excuse.
Keep in mind that the Confederate
government did everything possible to exchange prisoners with the
North. In 1863, Union Secretary of War Stanton decided to end prisoner
exchanges on the grounds that the South had more to gain than the
North. Even when the South explained its increasing inability to
care for the prisoners, Stanton refused to resume the exchanges.
Captain Wirz, the commandant at Andersonville, allowed a party
of four prisoners to go to Washington on parole to explain the
hardships at Andersonville and plead for an exchange. The men saw
Stanton but were unsuccessful in convincing him to the exchange.
The men returned to Andersonville and in post-war accounts condemned
Stanton for his refusal to allow prisoner exchanges. In February
of 1865, Wirz released 3,000 prisoners who were well enough to
travel on their own to the Federal base in Jacksonville, Florida.
The Union commander refused to accept them, and they were returned
Near the end of the war, the
United States Congress passed a law making the poor treatment of
prisoners the official policy of the federal government. The official
U.S. policy on Confederate POWs is stated in the preamble to HR
97, passed by both Houses of Congress:
prisoners in our hands are to be subjected to a treatment finding
its parallels only in the conduct of savage tribes and resulting
in the death of multitudes by the slow but designed process
of starvation and by mortal diseases occasioned by insufficient
and unhealthy food and wanton exposure of their persons to the
inclemency of the weather.
97 was real, and the Northern government did indeed try to
eliminate Southern prisoners by starvation and other means
If anything qualifies as an
outrage, surely this does!
Major Brady ~ Pt. Lookout's
By A. J. Cone, Raleigh, FL
Does any reader of the Veteran who was in Pt. Lookout, MD, ever
think of the officer in command of the prison at that place in
1864-65? The memory of him
is ineffaceably stamped on my memory; and if I were to live a hundred years and
all recollection of comrades dear by blood and association in those perilous
times could be effaced, Major A. G. Brady as I saw and knew him would have the
sole distinction of having impressed his brutal image, his cowardly and inhuman
conduct to the prisoners in his keeping (the lowest and the meanest of whom were
incomparable his superiors) as the lowest and most consummate villain of which
history makes record.
He was a typical commander of federal prisons, arrogant, domineering, without
the slightest approach to human virtues. He was the commandant from October 19,
1864 to the time I was exchanged, March 19, 1865, five months to a day. He was
about 40 years old, with florid complexion, sandy beard, long nose, small head,
goose-eyed, fidgety, wolfish in countenance, savage and cruel. His Sunday exercises
were riding through the streets of the camp on a tall, large-footed horse at
a breakneck speed when the poor men were out in the prison streets to get the
benefit of the sunshine, to restore their benumbed limbs from the cold and cramped
tents, where only a little green pine wood was allowed, which in the attempt
to burn would fill the tents with suffocating smoke which could be endured only
by lying prone on our faces. I saw Southern men cringingly and patronizingly
approach him and talk to him. I would have died a thousand deaths before I would
have sought his revolting presence or asked his aid.
To take out a work gang under a boss was quite a distinction, and I sought the
boss and he took me out one fine morning to work on an old fort, - under guard,
of course. I heard a prisoner ask the guard if he could give him a chance to
take the oath of allegiance, and the guard asked me if I wanted to take the oath
too. I told him no; that I would stay there until they starved me to death before
I would desert my country and comrades. He replied, "You are the kind of
soldier I like to see," that if the other man was out on oath he would have
no confidence in him.
On returning to the prison I got permission to go to a large syrup kettle near
the road, and I found it filled with odds and ends of rusty bacon boiled to a
jelly of which soap was to be made. I fished out and filled my haversack with
the best of this putrid mass and carried it into the prison and gave to my starved
comrades, who ate it with avidity and thanked me for the favor.
We were guarded by buck blacks clad in greatcoats, boots, and
gauntlet gloves, who stalked through the streets at night. One
of these devils shot into the tent next to mine simply because
one poor fellow could not suppress a cough when ordered to do so
by the black brute.
...Confederate Veteran 1912, Vol. 20, pg. 524-525
I had been told that Major. Brady, the commandant, had on several
occasions let a prisoner out; so I resolved to try him. I waited
at the gate one morning until he drove in and and saluting him,
made it known that I wished to speak to him. I said, "Major,
what is the chance to get out of this place? The war is over and
I don't want to die in here." He seemed to be mad and spoke
roughly, saying, "What are you doing in here?" I said, "They
put me in here for shooting yankees." He said, "Damn
you, this is the place for you," and drove off and left me.
So I had to wait until my turn came. When they commenced to release
us, it was done alphabetically and it took a long time to get down
to (the letter) T .
....W. L. Timberlake, Mobile, AL, Confederate Veteran, 1913 Vol.
21, page 585
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