Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Elmira Prison Camp: The Untimely Death of Four Confederates

Elmira Prison Camp earned the nickname Hellmira for good reasons.  Three blood relatives and the husband of a blood relative met their demise in this Union Prison Camp.

Elmira Prison Camp.  Harpers Weekly, April 15, 1865

At it's inception, Elmira Prison Camp was formerly known as Camp Rathbun.   Camp Rathbun was used in the early stage of the war as a training camp for Union troops.  The location was selected due to it's proximity to the Erie Railway and the Northern Central Railway.  Being located near two main rail hubs made this an ideal place to muster and train troops early in the war.   It's prime location also made it ideal for a prison camp once Camp Rathbun had fallen into disuse as the war progressed.  In the summer of 1864, Camp Rathbun officially became Elmira Prison Camp.   On July 6, 1864, 400 Confederate Prisoners of War were marched from Erie Station to the Camp.   These men were the first of 12,123 Confederate Prisoners of War held in Elmira.   During the 15 months that the site was used as a prisoner of war camp, roughly 25% (2,963) of the men detained there died from a combination of malnutrition, exposure to harsh winter weather, and disease from the poor sanitary conditions combined the lack of medical care.


Confederate prisoners carrying barrels

Elmira Prison has been compared to the Confederate Prison Camp Andersonville due to their high casualty ratesWhat history fails to mention is that due to all the Union blockades and disruption of the railway system in the south, the Confederates were barely able to feed and clothe themselves, much less their prisoners.   The north however, never experienced a disruption in their supply line.   Poor conditions at Yankee prison camps were inexcusable.  They had plenty of supplies, yet the conditions were equally as bad as the prison camps in the south with little to no supplies. 


The only known photo of Elmira in it's entirety

The prison camp consisted of a 30 acre plot of land that was surrounded by a 12 wooden wall.  I actually own a piece of the wooden wall.  While the Confederates had no shelter from the elements, there was a shelter approximately every one hundred feet that protected the guards from the weather.  Elmira never had enough room to house all of it's inmates.  The wooden barracks only had enough room for about half the prisoners.  The other half were forced to crowd in tents, even in the harsh winter New York weather.   It's easy to see how one forth of the population would perish. 

Map of Elmira Prison Camp

One man was tasked with burying all the Confederate dead.  That man was sexton John W. Jones.  Jones was a former slave who made his way to New York by way of the underground railroad.  Of the 2,963 men Jones buried, only 7 were unknowns.  The Federal Government declared the burial cite as a National Cemetery on December 7, 1877.  The cemetery is now known as Woodlawn National Cemetery. 


Memorial to Jones and the Confederate Prisoners


Confederate Monument at Woodlawn National Cemetery

View of Confederaet Section of Woodlawn

The last prisoner left Elmira on September 27, 1865.   The camp was then closed, demolished and converted into farm land.   The former prison camp site is now a residential neighborhood today.


Private William Henry Nowell was the first relative who died at Elmira.  William was born in Wake County, North Carolina in 1818.   He enlisted as a Private in Company H, North Carolina 31st Infantry Regiment on September 28, 1863.  He was captured as a Prisoner of War at the Battle of Cold Harbor on June 1, 1864.  William was originally imprisoned at Point Lookout Prison, Maryland.  He was transferred to Elmira on July 12, 1864.   William Henry Nowell died from chronic bronchitis on August 29, 1864.  


W.H. Nowell's grave

Here's my relation to William:

Pvt. William Henry Nowell (1818 - 1864)
is your 3rd cousin 5x removed
Rev. Mark Nowell (1790 - 1872)
Father of Pvt. William Henry
James Nowell (1767 - 1830)
Father of Rev. Mark
John Nowell (1736 - 1793)
Father of James
Martin Nowell (1682 - )
Father of John
Dempsey Nowell Sr. (1728 - 1777)
Son of Martin
Dempsey Nowell Jr. (1755 - 1810)
Son of Dempsey
Rev. John Nowell (1803 - 1859)
Son of Dempsey
Joseph Warren Nowell (1829 - 1889)
Son of Rev. John
Walter Hinton Nowell (1855 - 1922)
Son of Joseph Warren
Joseph Warren Nowell (1889 - 1954)
Son of Walter Hinton
Ruth Adelaide Nowell Stokes (1918 - )
Daughter of Joseph Warren
Selby Edward "Stokey" Stokes Jr. (1946 - )
Son of Ruth Adelaide
Chip Stokes
You are the son of Selby


Clarence Ruffin Broadwell was the husband of my 3rd cousin, 5x removed, Nancy Ann Nowell.  He was born in Wake County, North Carolina in 1823.  Clarence enlisted in the Company K, North Carolina 12th Infantry Regiment on Feb. 4, 1863, in Wake County, North Carolina at the age of 39.  Broadwell was captured on May 12, 1864 at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House.  Clarence was also originally sent to Point Lookout, Maryland and was transferred to Elmira on August 10, 1864.  Clarence Ruffin Broadwell died from disease on November 10, 1864.

Here's my relation to Clarence:

Clarence Ruffin Broadwell (1823 - 1864)
relationship to you: husband of 3rd cousin 5x removed
Nancy Ann Nowell Broadwell (1827 - 1873)
Wife of Clarence Ruffin
Willis W. Nowell (1806 - 1890)
Father of Nancy Ann
James Nowell (1767 - 1830)
Father of Willis W.
John Nowell (1736 - 1793)
Father of James
Martin Nowell (1682 - )
Father of John
Dempsey Nowell Sr. (1728 - 1777)
Son of Martin
Dempsey Nowell Jr. (1755 - 1810)
Son of Dempsey
Rev. John Nowell (1803 - 1859)
Son of Dempsey
Joseph Warren Nowell (1829 - 1889)
Son of Rev. John
Walter Hinton Nowell (1855 - 1922)
Son of Joseph Warren
Joseph Warren Nowell (1889 - 1954)
Son of Walter Hinton
Ruth Adelaide Nowell Stokes (1918 - )
Daughter of Joseph Warren
Selby Edward "Stokey" Stokes Jr. (1946 - )
Son of Ruth Adelaide
Chip Stokes
You are the son of Selby


Wyatt Currin was also captured at the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse on May 12, 1864.   He was born in Granville County, North Carolina in 1829.  Wyatt enlisted in Company I, North Carolina 23rd Infantry Regiment on November 28, 1863 at Camp Holmes in Raleigh.  He was also initially sent to Point Lookout, Maryland.  He was transferred to Elmira on August 10, 1864, the same day as Clarence Broadwell.  Wyatt Currin died of Variola on February 13, 1865. 

Here's my relation to Wyatt:

Wyatt Currin (1829 - 1865)
is your 1st cousin 6x removed
Wyatt Currin (1794 - 1844)
Father of Wyatt
Hugh Currin (1744 - 1823)
Father of Wyatt
James Currin III (1785 - 1866)
Son of Hugh
Abner Currin (1810 - 1865)
Son of James
Martha Anne Currin (1834 - 1917)
Daughter of Abner
Phebe Lucy Daniel (1862 - 1946)
Daughter of Martha Anne
Valeria Lee Moss (1890 - 1968)
Daughter of Phebe Lucy
Phebe Teresa Wheeler Lewis (1918 - 1977)
Daughter of Valeria Lee
Joyce Elaine Lewis (1948 - )
Daughter of Phebe Teresa
Chip Stokes
You are the son of Joyce


My last relative who met his end as a Prisoner of War at Elmira was Drewry T. Davis.  Drewry was also captured at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House on May 12, 1864.   He was born in Northampton County, North Carolina in 1836.  Drewry enlisted as a Private in Company F, North Carolina 1st Infantry Regiment on May 27, 1862.  Following his capture, he was also initially sent to Point Lookout, Maryland.  For some reason Drewry caught the train to Elmira a few days before Broadwell and Currin.  He arrived at Elmira on August 6, 1864.   Drewry T. Davis died from chronic diarrhea on March 27, 1865.  He is buried in Plot: CSA, 0, 2501.

Here's my relation to Drewry:

Drewry T. Davis (1836 - 1865)
is your 1st cousin 5x removed
Arthur Davis (1799 - 1879)
Father of Drewry T.
John Abraham Davis (1758 - 1832)
Father of Arthur
Sarah "Sally" Davis (1802 - 1870)
Daughter of John Abraham
Sarah Pendleton (1830 - 1913)
Daughter of Sarah "Sally"
John Stokes (1850 - 1882)
Son of Sarah
Edward Stokes (1875 - 1961)
Son of John
Selby Edward Stokes (1910 - 1997)
Son of Edward
Selby Edward "Stokey" Stokes Jr. (1946 - )
Son of Selby Edward
Chip Stokes
You are the son of Selby

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