Elmira Prison Camp OnLine Library -
AS A SLAVE on the Elzy Plantation in Leesburg, Virginia, John W. Jones often thought about seeking a better life for himself up North. Worried that his master would soon die and he would be sold into an even worse situation, Jones acted on his dreams and escaped one late evening in June 1844. He headed for Maryland and into Pennsylvania, hiding in barns and the cover of darkness. Wandering through the countryside of upper Pennsylvania, the fugitive crossed over to southern New York state, into the Chemung Valley. There, he settled in Elmira, a progressive town known for its antislavery sentiment. In Elmira, Jones held various jobs while gaining an education at a local school, before finally achieving a position as an assistant sexton. As civil war approached, the fortunes of John Jones, as well as other Elmirans, would continue to grow.(1)
In 1860 Elmira was a community of approximately 8,700. The Civil War greatly augmented its growth, not only in population, but also in its economic development. Elmira's industries expanded to embrace the city's function as a main military rendezvous point in New York, consisting of four training bases. Tanneries sold leather goods to the military, and woolen mills fabricated blue uniforms. Hardware stores supplied utensils, cups, and plates, while food contractors made sure they were put to use.(2) "Some of the farmers of the vicinity," wrote an observer, "were made comfortably well-to-do by the sale of their produce to the camps."(3) Land and housing leases were negotiated for training grounds, quarters, hospitals, and any other spaces required to fit the soldiers. Selling horses to the Cavalry Bureau became an important function of the post and a lucrative trade for area dealers; corral stables were built to accommodate twelve hundred animals. Lumber mills provided manufactured wood for the various facilities and workers were hired to undertake their construction.(4)
Wartime growth changed Elmira's country town atmosphere, which was made official on April 7, 1864, when it was incorporated into a city with four wards. But the new city's first few months proved to be a pivotal time; activity within its limits began to diminish. Two training camps shut down by early 1864, and a third was nearly vacated. Although 20,796 soldiers were gathered, trained, and dispatched from the Elmira Rendezvous throughout the war, about half that number were processed during the war's first year. When the soldiers were gone, so was much of the business required for their care.(5) "Barracks No. 1 are quite deserted again" exemplified the "here and gone" attitude stressed by newspapers as men left for the front.(6) No one anticipated the financial benefits of establishing a military prison in Elmira, nor that it would strengthen the economy.
Elmira underwent a major transformation near the middle of 1864; many men rendezvousing in Elmira would not be wearing Union blue, but Confederate gray. Within months, inmates and prison keepers nearly doubled Elmira's population of some thirteen thousand citizens. After both the prison and guard camps were established in Elmira's first ward, where 1,440 citizens had been living, its population grew almost exponentially.(7)
The old training camp on the Chemung River, designated as Barracks No. 3, was remodeled into a stockade city, an appendage of the community where services were demanded in full. In July, when the Southerners began to arrive, readers of local papers were not surprised to find
Our mechanics and laboring men are all employed. Not an idle one do we know who is willing to work--During no period have more new buildings been planned and put in the process of construction. The presence of a military rendezvous has also necessitated a large and additional amount of building around the Barracks which have not reached completion, not to speak of the new improvements being perfected as fast as required. The high price of labor and material so far seems to influence only in a degree all kinds of building operations.(8)
In August 1864, a month after the prison opened, the Elmira Daily Advertiser commented on the economic revival: "The presence of so large a number of military here causes our town to put on the appearance of old times. There will probably be a constant guarding force of over two thousand men here, until the rebel prisoners are disposed of." Furthermore, the paper continued, "The number of officers will be larger than that quartered here last winter. So the prospect of a gay, lively and spirited season for amusements and entertainments seems quite assured for the coming fall and perhaps winter."(9) Two days later, the local press commented "The true policy for the sure growth of our city seems at last fully inaugurated, namely--the increase of all kinds of manufacturing business, for which there will be a growing demand with the advancing years." The paper could only hope "These elements of true prosperity, besides, will last and sustain the growth and increase of the town, when all the ephemeral advantages of a military rendezvous shall have been done away by the subjection of the rebellion and the close of the war.(10)
In the middle of October, the Advertiser mentioned, "Our streets are still thronged with the military, stranger, and citizens. The crowd, if anything, increases, the stir and business everywhere manifested is equal to a city quadruple of our size." "So, with the attractions of all sorts about us and the camps and barracks," the paper concluded, "there seems to be a good prospect of a large inflow of strangers and military personages for some time to come."(11)
Newspaper correspondents sent to Elmira detailed not only Johnny Reb's life in captivity, but the prison's impact elsewhere. On August 17, an enlightening article appeared in the New York Evening Post.
The enterprising town of Elmira is one of the government depots for prisoners of war, and the camp now contains between seven and eight thousand rebels .... More than two thousand, as many as the camp will accommodate. In a few days from this time the rebels, with their guards, will about equal in number the men, women and children who composed the population previous to the establishment of the rebel depot. Suppose three-quarters of a million rebel prisoners encamped in Westchester county, and you will appreciate the situation here.
The metropolitan correspondent did not know specifically who would provide for them all, only the prison was "about a mile and a half from the business centre of Elmira" and the "rich farming region furnishes the needed supplies."(12)
On October 7, a New York Express reporter wrote:
Elmira is a live town,--a new city if you please. Perhaps it abounds in incidents of real interest beyond any other locality outside of your own great city .... It is in short, the most important military post in the Empire state .... The war has given a great impetus to Elmira. Speculation, too, has had and is still having its widest range. Under this influence it has swelled into the proportion of a city of 16,000 inhabitants. Besides this, it has a floating population of from 10,000 to 12,000 .... We have to some extent all the characteristics of your great city. Gamblers, pickpockets, fast men and lewd women--the latter are in legion.
His most telling comment--It is here that army contractors fatten and get rich in a day while thousands are wondering where all the money comes from."(13)
Not all the advantages of the military in Elmira satisfied everyone. Some carpenters hired by the Quartermaster's Department were unhappy because they were being paid with credit vouchers rather than cash. In fact, most of the Department's workers were compensated by vouchers, which could be cashed at local banks, but with a tax. Not being paid in hard money and being taxed on top of it was bad, but the workers' immediate supervisor made the situation worse. At the end of October, a spokesman for the carpenters, Eli Monell, wrote the Secretary of War that an agreement with local banks would adjust their tax rate at two percent. However, someone had "interfered" with this arrangement. Asst. Q.M.S.P. Suydam, they complained, told banks "not to cash them for less than five percent."(14) In early November Q.M. Gen. Montgomery Meigs informed Stanton that the Elmira carpenters "are liable to and do at times work more than the number of working days in a month, and it is nothing more than fair that they should contribute their legal share towards the support of the Government."(15) The presidents of the Chemung Canal Bank and the First and Second National Banks of Elmira also verified that their tax rates on vouchers had "always" been around five percent.(16)
Meanwhile, Elmira Prison was gradually taking a fair portion of monies out of its own fund. Besides quartermaster and commissary expenditures, the prison fund had been supplying the stockade with extra money and beginning to pry open the hands of the tight-fisted commissary general of prisons, William Hoffman. Hoffman was able to keep spending at a minimum in the camp's early months, but higher costs occurred when more facilities were required to care for additional prisoners. In September, $ 14,771.21 was spent on the prison, and in October, $13,026.03. Even when expenses declined at the end of 1864, records from the Commissary General's office indicate as much as $37,566.20 was already exhausted on the Elmira Prison. It was only the start of the immense amount of spending that continued into the next year.(17)
In January, 1865, many of the military contracts had to be extended or rewritten. Commissary Nicholas J. Sappington had hoped to solve his problem of being able to procure better grades of meat for prisoners by stipulating in the new fresh beef contract for larger stock. Samuel Hall won the six month contract, which began on January 11 and was paid nearly double than that of the prior contractor, 13 7/8 cents per pound, because it was agreed "Cattle Slaughtered for Beef to be delivered under this contract shall weigh Five hundred pounds net after being trimed."(18) It was a promise Hall could not keep. He scoured the countryside for animals by the agreed terms, but they were too scarce. The butcher made an appeal to Captain Sappington, who met with the commander of the Elmira Depot, Col. Benjamin F. Tracy. Tracy's legal background told him he had no authority to change a preexisting contract, so the depot commander wrote the commissary general of Subsistence. "It is represented by Mr. Hall that it is very difficult to get cattle of that size in the country, while young steers & heifers, weighing about 400 to 500 lbs. in good flesh, & much better beef and less bones, than larger animals can be procured. They ask that lighter beef be accepted."(19) Commissary Eaton also received an endorsement from Gen. A. S. Diven, commander of the District of Western New York, who agreed "the rejection of beef because of the weight injudicious. It should be inspected in reference to the quality, rather than the weight, small cattle if in good condition make good beef, much better than larger, boney cattle."(20) Military authorities had but little choice to modify the contract under Hall's terms, although his pay rate remained the same.
Hall's fresh beef would require salt, so Commissary Sappington issued another contract for its supply in January. Virgil Read provided 1000 bushels, 60 pounds to the bushel at 68 cents per pound, bringing him a modest $680.(21) At the end of the month, Sappington notified his superiors in Washington they were short on flour because "the number of troops & Prisoners of War at the post rendering the supply necessary, and believing the flour can be obtained here as cheap a rate of the Government as at any other point."(22) Sappington spoke in relative terms--not much came cheap for his department, particularly flour.
Elmira flourmills were extremely busy in 1865. Besides the amount needed for meals, Commissary Sappington was required, as he put it, to keep in excess "about 50,000 pounds of hard bread on hand while the Prisoners were held here in case of any accident to the bake ovens."(23) This supply, along with regular demands, had large repercussions with local flour distributors. On February 2, Jeremiah Dwight agreed to furnish the Elmira commissary department with 1,600 barrels of flour, evenly divided between two types. He received $10.20 per barrel for 800 barrels of wheat flour and $9.70 for 800 barrels for his spring wheat flour, a contract worth $15,920. On the same day, Sappington entered an agreement with George Worrel for 400 barrels of flour at $9.60 per barrel. At the beginning of March, J. H. Loring and Company earned their portion of commissary disbursements. The two proprietors of this local mill, James H. Loring and Edward W. Hersey, were obligated for 1,600 barrels of flour at $9.64 per barrel, adding up to a $15,424 contract.(24) At the end of April, Thomas C. Platt from nearby Tioga County was awarded a flour contract for 1,600 barrels of flour at $7.122. Platt grew up in Owego with Colonel Tracy and had personal leverage other bidders could not compete against. As both men emerged in politics after the war, Platt would repay his friend with political favors.(25)
Individuals providing the prison pen with food never endeared themselves to captives. More than one Southerner believed contractors to be interested only in growing rich at their expense. Alabaman J. L. Williams stated, "I think the Government made an honest effort to care for us, but sometimes the Government and sub-contractors were not honest."(26) Marcus Toney "thought for awhile that the government was retaliating on us on account of Andersonville, but afterwards believed it was done by the army contractors."(27) A South Carolinian agreed, "my honest opinion is that they could have treated us much better without much effort. The government may have made the effort, but the agents of the government failed most miserably."(28) Perhaps failing in quality, food contractors did not fail in quantity. The amount of meat and bread doled out to inmates, the two primary staples in their diet, were enormous. Sappington provided Elmira prisoners with an estimated 13,000 barrels of flour and 2,396,165 pounds of beef.(29)
The quartermaster's department continued to keep hundreds of individuals in and around Elmira working in 1865. Supplying the prison kept many teamsters working for forty-five dollars a month, a five dollar raise.(30) Q.M. John J. Elwell complained regularly to Washington that he lacked proper land transportation for ten thousand prisoners and three thousand guards, and although admitting the costs were "excessive" he had no other choice but to rent equipment.(31) Private parties loaned wagons out at $2.75 a day, and horses at $5 a team to transport supplies. J. S. Baldwin earned $365.50 in one month for that purpose, while other Elmirans also found renting equipment extremely profitable. Building or repairing facilities brought carpenters frequently to the prison. They were also given an increase in pay after the new year, up to three dollars per day. General laborers might earn $45 a month, while civilian clerks could make as much as $125. Surveyors were paid $50 a month and wood inspectors $100.(32) On the bottom of Elwell's payroll were nine persons hired as "dirt cart drivers" for removing waste from the prison yard and compensated $20 a month. Local blacksmiths were required for working at the depot, and when Cook and Covell's hardware store won the contract for furnishing the dirt carts, their blacksmith, Miles Trout, built them.(33) With all the contracts made in Elmira, small wonder that lawyers were required "in giving legal advice in regard to leases, contracts and claims against the government." James Dunn charged $75 a month for his counseling.(34)
The operational demands of the prison and guard camps kept local businesses active. Besides providing hardware, Cook and Covell supplied kerosene oil to keep the prison camp illuminated, while grosses of lamp wicks and matches were needed for lighting and burning.(35) The masonry firm of Russell and French sold hundreds of dollars worth of lime, brick, and sand, used for building and disinfecting privies.(36) Record keeping and sending correspondence required an immense amount of stationary and supplies. F. A. Devoe sand Son printed out sutler orders for the prison, while Presnick and Dudley and the Hall Brothers furnished paper, ledgers, report and prescription books, pens, pencils, erasers, rulers, scissors, rubber bands, envelopes, ink, and sealing wax. George D. Bridgeman and Fairman and Caldwell bound information into voluminous books.(37) Straw and hay were bought in bulk and used by the hospital department for bedding.(38) Druggists, particularly Ingraham and Robinson, stocked the hospital with medicinal supplies.(39)
Perhaps the greatest opportunity for anyone employed by prison authorities was that of John Jones, the former slave from Virginia. Jones had advanced to the position of sexton at Woodlawn Cemetery by the time the prison opened in July 1864. At the end of the month, Commissary General Hoffman approved three hundred dollars for leasing a half-acre of ground at the local cemetery for dead Confederates, and the employment of a person to bury them for $40 a month. Jones held his modest job at a fortuitous time since he soon found that the morbid business of death was a booming industry while the prison existed. To help the sexton, Hoffman allowed the purchase of a wagon so it could be modified into a hearse.(40) "The first day that I was called in my capacity of sexton to bury a prisoner who had died," wrote Jones, "I thought nothing of it." "Directly there were more dead. One day I had seven to bury. After that they began to die very fast."(41) By 1865, burials were becoming more expensive as Jones began running out of room to bury prisoners. On January 1, 1865, Elmira's mayor, Steven Arnot, leased out an additional half-acre of land at Woodlawn, costing the government $600 for Confederate burial grounds. Also, undoubtedly to the chagrin of Hoffman, Jones was not being paid monthly, but at an individual rate set at $2.50 per burial.(42)
In the meantime, the customized hearse had been pulling up to the deadhouse for its daily collection, driven by John Donohoe for $60 a month. Inmates employed at the prison camp morgue prepared their own for burial, constructing pine coffins as fast as they could while corpses piled in the comers.(43) Clothing and personal items of the deceased were to be left alone, while each cadaver was tagged for identification, giving a name, company, regiment, and date of death. These records were transcribed on the coffin lid, then the papers bottled and put in the coffin before it was nailed shut. The coffins were loaded six at a time onto the dead wagon for removal to Woodlawn, a few miles north of the prison.(44) This "admirable system" provoked one Confederate to sarcastically state that at Elmira "the care of the dead was better than that bestowed on the living."(45)
At Woodlawn, trenches were opened under the direction of Sexton Jones, most lying north to south. A crew of ten to twelve prisoners on grave yard detail helped with the digging. The largest number Jones buried in a single day was forty-three; in his busiest month, March 1865, he earned $1,237.50.(46) He meticulously logged the records on each coffin lid to a large ledger detailing the position of every Confederate buried at Woodlawn. He made sure wooden headboards had the correct information written on them in white lead paint, and then placed over the appropriate plot. Nine laborers were on the quartermaster's payroll, paid $45 per month, to set the headboards, which were built by local carpenter William F. Naefe, over the graves.(47)
Eventually 2,973 Confederates were laid to rest at Woodlawn Cemetery.(48) It would have cost just $480 if the Sexton were paid monthly. Instead, he earned $7,432.50 from prisoner burials. The former slave had adapted quite well in the capitalistic North. Long after the ending of hostilities, a personal friend remembered: "The aggregate of these fees was the basis of the comfortable fortune he amassed in the years after the war. He [Jones] was rated as the wealthiest colored man in this part of the State."(49)
If space was needed to lay Confederates to rest, additional room was required to lay Union soldiers to sleep. Officers in Elmira were given daily stipends for housing when other quarters were not arranged. The Brainard Hotel was depot headquarters and furnished rooms for camp administrators. Prison Cmandant Major Henry V. Colt, Colonel Tracy and Captain Suydam all lived at the Brainard. Other hotels in the city housed military guests. But it was private homes that were especially hospitable to military personnel, opening their doors in return for rent checks.(50) Maj. S. W. Beall rented three rooms from Theodore Edwards for $32 a month. Capt. R. R. R. Dumars paid only $24 for his three rooms from a Mr. Baker. The second chief surgeon of the prison, Anthony Stocker, rented four rooms from Mrs. W. B. Dewitt for $32 a month, while Adj. C. C. Barton leased three rooms from her for $24. Many more officers connected with the prison and guard camps lived in private homes and paid their owners similar rates. Clerks and orderlies were given quarters at the government's expense. Even Mayor Arnot got in on the action, renting quarters for the provost guard at $20 a month. Office space was just as prime, as hundreds of dollars were spent in renting out to the adjutants, quartermaster, and commissary departments. Still, it was hard to beat the monopoly the Foster family had on their block, combining for $2,215 in renting space for Southerners at Elmira Prison and guards at Camp Chemung.(51)
Leases and rents, persons and articles hired on contract, expenditures by the commissary, quartermaster, and prison funds, all benefited Elmirans. Farms, lumber yards, flourmills, meat markets, hardware shops, stationary and drag stores had to accelerate business to meet military demands. "The merchants are busy morning through night" noticed a reporter for the Advertiser during the prison's hey day, "all kinds of business seem to be in a flourishing condition."(52) Furthermore, job growth was not restricted to those filed on contractual records or paid by the quartermaster, commissary or prison funds. For example, an omnibus driver was employed by the Brainard to chauffeur officers, produce vendors, theaters, restaurants, saloons, and less moral establishments overindulged off duty prison keepers with various forms of entertainment, food, and drink.(53)
Perhaps one of the greatest forms of entertainment connected with Elmira Prison was two observation towers built alongside the stockade. There had been little opportunity, before some individuals became overly opportunistic, for citizens to see the Rebels in prison. Military regulations kept most people outside the wooden barricade, while small openings, either between slats or through knotholes, only offered a limited view. To the dismay of captives, people were being charged ten to fifteen cents a head to climb up the observatories and view them.(54) The Daily Advertiser reported an observatory was "often crowded with sightseers and must prove a paying institution." About a month later, the paper assessed, the "two observatories ... in operation ... both are doing a rushing. business."(55) Wooden stands soon popped up beside the towers peddling food and drink that included everything from cakes, peanuts, and crackers, to lemonade, beer, and liquor.(56)
Southern prisoners were less enthusiastic in having money made at their expense. A Tennessee sergeant, G. W. D. Porter, remembered how "hundreds would crowd daily to get a view of the prisoners--many to gloat, perhaps, on their sufferings."(57) Virginian James Huffman blamed the Northern press for sending "a constant stream of people winding their way to the top of these observatories to get a glimpse of the Rebs, as they supposed us to be some kind of curious, monkey-shaped animals."(58) Another Virginian, Anthony Keiley, was "surprised that Barnum has not taken the prisoners off the hands of Abe, divided them in companies, and carried them in caravans through the country ... turning an honest penny by the show. ... Patriotism is spelled with a `y' at the end of the first syllable up here."(59) Indeed, the commercialization of the prison was taken to a new level with the observatories, bringing more visitors into the city. However, financial opportunities also extended outside of the Chemung Valley.
Although canals had been giving way to railroads for some time in the Valley, the inland waterways were revitalized during the Civil War. Delivering fuel to the depot, particularly coal, kept towpaths crowded. Elmira's main connection to Pennsylvania mines, its supply source, was along the Junction Canal, which connected the Chemung Canal to the Susquehanna systems. The Junction had been gradually increasing in cargo throughout the war. In 1861, tonnage was 97,331, in 1862, 126,395, and in 1863, 153,059. The year the prison was established, cargo on the Junction, more than half Anthracite coal, was reaching its highest mark.(60) In November, the Daily Advertiser reported "Coal is arriving here in large quantities by the Junction Canal, in anticipation of the close of navigation. The gross amount will much exceed the previous seasons."(61) By the end of 1864, 170,849 tons, primarily coal, were transported from Pennsylvania to Elmira. The percentage of anthracite about doubled from 1861 to 1864. March floods in 1865 prevented the canal from ever matching these figures; no matter to J. D. Baldwin, since he sold the majority of his coal, worth about $ 10,000, to the prison before the heavy rains fell.(62)
Elmira was in fact a transportation nexus because of its rail lines, the primary factor that made it a military depot. The Erie and Northern Central intersected at Elmira, and reaped large earnings from the army for their high transportation rates. Not only did they move goods in and out, but transporting human freight was a seemingly unending endeavor, with streams of soldiers coming or leaving the city. Besides taking soldiers to and from the battlefields, prisoners and guards were sent to Elmira from various places and when they were released, the government again paid their way. Assistant Quartermaster Suydam was in charge of contracting use of the railroads, and despite poor service on the Northern Central and a dreadful mishap on the Erie, the military had no choice but to continue using them at a costly price. For example, from July 1864, when the prison was inaugurated to the end of July 1865, about the time it was closed, the military incurred $ 115,000 in charges from the Erie Railroad Company alone.(63)
Quartermaster Elwell never had the luxury of having that type of cash on hand, so the Erie would have to wait at least a year before the government paid its bills.(64) Some local contractors were less patient. In March 1865, a number of businessmen whose "entire capital is now in the hands of the U.S. Government for lumber, coal, and hardware furnished upon contract on Q.M. orders" were becoming nervous by the delay in receiving payments.(65) The lumber firm of Hatch and Partridge represented the group and explained their dilemma to Quartermaster General Meigs; "We do not know whether the proper regulations have been made on you or the U.S. Treasury for money to pay this indebtedness but we are persuaded there is incompetency somewhere in the Q.M. Department at this post." Although they had "no special charge to make with Q.M. Elwell--We are personally acquainted and highly esteem him as a man and a Christian. But so long as we are satisfied that the government has the money wherewith to pay we can but feel that there is great money somewhere, in keeping the credits of the government here."(66) Also in March, Commissary Sappington was writing Subsistence Commissary Eaton that he had not received cash since December 1864: "The Creditors of the U.S. are very urgent for their money and it would give me great pleasure to satisfy them if the Treasurer could forward the funds."(67)
Prison Commissary Hoffman was having his own funding problems by the spring of 1865. Elmira Prison was starting to take up even more money from the prison fund, although he had hoped to save as much as possible as the war ended. January and February coupled for an expenditure under $20,000, but in March, a combination of factors led to a disbursement Hoffman never anticipated. Bills from building winter barracks were still being paid off, and that, compounded by a devastating flood that took place in the middle of the month, made for large expenditures. Much of the prison and guard camps had to be rebuilt or cleaned up, resulting in costs of $73,334.16. No prison fund came close to equaling this figure in any month of the Civil War. For that matter, its value might be better appreciated by the fact that March funds at Elmira were equal to that for most Union prisons during the year and a few throughout their entire history; including Johnson's Island in Ohio, Camp Morton in Indiana, and Gratiot Street Prison in Missouri, all three founded in 1862. Moreover, if Commissary Hoffman tallied the final operational costs from prison funding, the prisons at Alton, Illinois; Louisville, Kentucky; Wheeling, West Virginia; Ship Island, Mississippi; Harts Island, New York; and Forts McHenry in Baltimore Warren in Boston, and Lafayette, in New York, he still would not have enough money for Elmira Prison in the month of March.(68)
Unfortunately for Elmira, spending on the prison camp would soon stop. At the end of the month, General Orders No. 77 was issued by the War Department. Elmira newspapers headlined "Important Order--The Reduction of Expenses by the War Department ... every possible reduction of military expenses, in view of the conclusion of hostilities, will be made immediately."(69) The act officially prepared citizens for the closing of the rendezvous and the suspension of army activities in Elmira. Army purchases were only to be "what is absolutely necessary in view of the immediate reduction of the forces in the field and in garrison."(70) Also, the commissary and quartermaster departments were not only to reduce spending, but the number employees as well. Only those who were "required for closing the business of their respective departments," would remain.(71)
It did not take long for Elmira's economy to be affected by the bad news. Although newspapers assured "a year will elapse before the complete abandonment of this military post," the potential of losing an immense money-generating enterprise was not well received. Just the prior fall, the Advertiser bragged, "The high price of gold does not seem to affect the pockets of the consumer. The confidence in the stability of the nation is so great that no hesitancy or anxiety actuates the business transactions or pecuniary dealings of trade."(72) At the end of winter, the paper realized the war "gave a stimulus to this place, and has caused its growth to increase doubly in material acquirements, and has insured a permanent and steady advance from its previous state, even should the war end today."(73) "Today" was a reality in the spring of 1865, but gold plummeted and buying slackened, while government employees began to be laid off. "The prices of provisions are gradually tending downwards in our market," reported the Advertiser in May, "Prices cannot keep up with the fall of gold and the prospect of the breaking up of the rendezvous."(74)
Downsizing at the depot continued. Clerks, laborers, carpenters, teamsters, cooks, messengers, stewards, and other military workers were let go. On May 10, it was reported "There are now about two clerks at headquarters who are enlisted men ... the thinning out, within a few days, has been quite remarkable."(75) Elmirans felt the economic pinch when leases were not renewed, quartermaster supplies not purchased, and commissary contracts phased out. The dismantling of the "stockade city" and its "guard camp suburb" led a reporter for the Advertiser to write; "Tearing Down--Already the Saloon buildings along the street, this side of Barracks No. 3, are in the process of demolition, or tom down. They have filled their day and must now give way to the new order of things."(76) Also in July, articles purchased by the prison fund dramatically dropped.(77) In August, the local press again verified the changing composition of the city; "There is quite a thinning out constantly going on among the military men at this post. Reductions are gradually taking place, that will restore us in a few months to our former civilian, minus the military aspect."(78)
Gradual reductions had also been going on at the prison. In April, $28,261.71 was expended on the pen, in May, $20,55 1.08, June, $4,379. 19, July, $2,863.64, and August, a mere $2,714.26. In September and October, the sale of prison camp material continued. Incidentally, the auctioneer, W. Sheridan, was still being paid by the government, $150 for his sale of government property.(79) In November, the War Department was informed "all the land heretofore occupied as barracks No. 3 is no longer required. The following described land, being part of several leases with Messrs. Foster can be surrendered."(80) The land was returned to the Foster family after all the government property was sold in December, which totaled $2,824.10. The amount of money left over in the prison fund and returned was $58,151.54.(81)
War had greatly affected Elmira, which was a changed place compared to five years prior. Soon after the conflict ended and outstanding claims settled, the economy was also altered for the better. Debts were lessened between individuals and credits shortened, but easily secured, while there was an advancement in prompt payments. Pauperism was reduced in some sections of the city, however, there was a rise in crime. The monthly price of farm labor before 1861 was $12 to $15, rose to $24 in 1864, and $26 by war's end. Even with the drought of 1864, farmland rose in value.(82) One observer noted the "camps required large amounts of farm produce, meat, vegetables and wood for fuel.... Along West Water Street might be seen great wood-piles extending for nearly a quarter mile."(83) Food contractors, supposed to be selling their goods to the military at the lowest bid, never lost much. The market price of flour was $9 to $10 per barrel and beef sold as low as 10 [cts.] a pound, both figures commensurable to what the military was paying.(84) Consequently, one should not be surprised at Commissary Sappington's assessment after the war: "Citizens were at all times willing and anxious to furnish anything that was required at reasonable prices, and wait the pleasure of the government to pay them, in fact the resources of the country and the faith of the People seemed during this war to be inexhaustable."(85)
Census enumerators help in understanding how much the Elmira economy was affected by the military. One agent wrote that the influence of war made Elmira "Generally more prosperous and contented."(86) Another noticed Elmirans had "A great desire to become quickly Rich out of the government by fat contracts."(87) Census Judge Edwin Munson commented on the changing financial and social conditions in the ward containing the stockade and surrounding guard camp. There was "an increasing tendency to extravagance and display. The large government expenditures at this post with the large number of officials and troops stationed here have doubtless greatly fostered this tendency at this point. The same causes have led to a largely increased consumption of intoxicants," something more than a few prison guards could appreciate.(88)
Elmira Prison led all Union Prisons in prison funding in 1865, and not one camp came close to matching its maintenance fee of $165,225. Not only was it the first time that a prison camp broke six figures in a single year, but Elmira went well beyond it. Comparatively, Elmira Prison doubled, tripled, and more than quadrupled many of the stockades operating in 1865. Camp Douglas, came closest, spending $93,995 that year. Then came Camp Chase, with $52,134 in expenses, followed by Point Lookout, $42,436, and finally, Fort Delaware with $30,964. In fact, of the twenty-seven camps under Prison Commissary Hoffman's control in 1865, $489,876.29 was spent, meaning about one-third went to Elmira.(89)
All told, $202,784 was spent on Elmira Prison during its existence, and some 12,147 prisoners passed through its gates. No prison cost as much from July 1864 to the following year. Commissary Hoffman's first prison, on Johnson's Island, Ohio, which he hoped would be the only one required for the war, registered $57,784.69 for its 7,627 captives, who were mostly officers. In central Ohio, a camp near Columbus, converted from training facilities, housed 16,335 men through its three-year term as a prison, having a total of $128,872.80 spent on it. Camp Morton, a similar prison converted from an instruction base in 1862 on the state fairgrounds a mile and a half from downtown Indianapolis, received 12,082 Confederates, on whom $43,565.41 was expended. The prison in Alton, Illinois, a former state penitentiary used by the War Department for 9,330 Southerners since 1862 had spent $33,538.09 by the end of the war. Gratiot Street Prison in St. Louis, Missouri, a medical college before it was converted a prison early in the war, never held more than a thousand prisoners, but expended $19,115.93 from 1862. Fort Delaware, built earlier in the century--on an island, to protect Philadelphia--was converted into a prison for Confederates in 1862. It held 25,275 prisoners throughout its existence and incurred $122,934.11 in bills. Another prison located on a river was Rock Island in the Mississippi, bordering Illinois and Iowa. It was established at the end of 1863, confined 11,458, and had $96,427.91 in expenditures by the end of the war.(90)
Only two stockades compared to the spending at Elmira from prison funding. Point Lookout, where 42,762 inmates were held for its three year history expended $162,416.83. Camp Douglas, established in January 1862, just four miles from center city Chicago, spent more than Elmira. However, its spending began in January of 1862 and lasted until the end of the war, a four year existence adding up to $208,230.91 spent on the 26,060 men that it received. Both its prison population and time frame more than doubled Elmira. A closer look finds that the Chicago prison expended $159,543.25 during Elmira's existence, while Elmira itself spent over $200,000. Moreover, the impact each had on the local population would be hard to compare. Camp Douglas was located in the main market of the Midwest, where all forms of industry were firmly entrenched. Its population was over 109,000 at the beginning of war, while Elmira's, was not even a tenth of that.(91)
These figures indicate no other prison camp community had been impacted to the degree Elmira was by the end of the war. It helped support the local economy and grew from it, adding stability during a sluggish time. This did not matter to some locals. More than a few might wonder if it were worth all the trouble for posterity's sake. Besides leading all Union stockades in expenditures for the year of its existence, Elmira also led Northern camps in another statistic. It had the highest death rate of any in the North, and Elmirans long lived with the stigma that their Civil War prison was considered the worst of its kind.
(1) Clay w. Holmes, The Elmira Prison Camp: A History of the Military at Elmira, N. E, July 6, 1864, to July 10, 1865 (New York: The Knickerbocker Press, 1912), 140-48.
(2) Walter H. Ottman, "A History of the City of Elmira, New York," Ph.D. diss., Cornell University, 162-65; A. G. Steen, "Recollections of Elmira in Civil War Days," typescript, Chemung Historical Society, Elmira, N.Y., 1-4; Elmira Star-Gazette, May 17, 1993.
(3) Ottman, "History of Elmira" 170.
(4) Elmira Star-Gazette, May 17, 1993; Ottman, "History of Elmira," 165-71; "Annual Report of Captain S. P. Suydam, A.Q.M., to the Quartermaster General, 1865," entry 225, RG 92, National Archives. Horses sold for about $155 apiece, and 15,725 were purchased by war's end, costing the government millions. "Annual Report of Captain J. J. Elwell to the Quartermaster General, 1864, 1865," entry 225, RG 92.
(5) Ottman, "History of Elmira," 200; Horigan, "Elmira Prison Camp--A Second Opinion," The Chemung Historical Journal (Mar. 1985): 3450; Elmira Daily Advertiser, Aug. 9, Sept. 15, 20, 1864; Elmira Star-Gazette, May 17, 1993; Towner, History of the Chemung County, 259; "Elwell's Annual Report, 1865;" "Suydam's Annual Report, 1865."
(6) Daily Advertiser, Nov. 18, 1864.
(7) Ibid., Aug. 8, 1865.
(8) Ibid., July 15, 1864.
(9) Ibid., Aug. 9, 1864.
(10) Ibid., Aug. 11, 1864.
(11) Ibid., Oct. 19, 1864.
(12) New York Evening Post, Aug. 17, 1864.
(13) New York Evening Express, Oct. 10, 1864.
(14) E. Monell to E. M. Stanton, Oct. 24, 1864, "Records of the Quartermaster General, Letters Received," entry 225, RG 92, NA.
(15) M. C. Meigs to Stanton, Nov. 5, 1864, "Records of the Quartermaster General, Letters Received."
(16) Suydam to Elwell, Oct. 24, 31, 1864, "Records of the Quartermaster General, Letters Received."
(17) Records of the Commissary General of Prisons, Statement of Prison Funds, 1864" entry 16, 77, RG 249, NA.
(18) Office of the Commissary General of Subsistence, Record of Contracts," Dec. 13, 1864, entry 77, RG 192, NA.
(19) B. F. Tracy to A. B. Eaton, Feb. 28, 1865 in "General Correspondence," entry 17, RG 192.
(20) B. F. Tracy to A. B. Eaton, Feb. 28, 1865 in "General Correspondence."
(21) "Contracts at Elmira, NY," Jan. 1, 1865, entry 77, RG 192.
(22) N. J. Sappington to A. B. Eaton, Feb. 2, 1865, "Letters Received" entry 17, RG 192. Other items on contract with the Commissary Department included 198 bushels of white beans to James Hotchkip at $2.25 per bushel; salt to George McGrath and V. B. Read, 250 bushels each at 53[cnts.] per bushel. Ibid., Apr. 6, 1865; "Contracts," June 23, 1865, entry 77, RG 192.
(23) N. J. Sappington to A. B. Eaton, Aug. 23, 1865, "General Correspondence."
(24) "Contracts," Feb. 2, 1865; Feb. 6, Mar. 3, 1865, "Letters Received," entry 17, RG 192.
(25) "Contracts," Apr. 29, 1865, Feb. 6, 1865; "Letters Received;" Benjamin F. Cooling, Benjamin Franklin Tracy: Father of the Modern American Fighting Navy, (Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books), 7. Throughout 1865, the prison fund also paid other locals a significant amount of money for feeding inmates, particularly for sick men. In March, the fund paid J. H. Loring & Co $568.06 for 218 bushels of onions; Andrew Hawthorn, $890.43 for 302 bushels of onions; Levi Coke received $575.95 for 575 onions; and J.A. Bundy 173.69 in potatoes. In April, William Ryan was paid $38.70 for about 60 pounds of potatoes; J. A. Bundy, $12 for potatoes; Andrew Hawthorn, $661.85 for 189 bushels of onions; In May, the fund paid Levi Coke $463.83 for 337 bushels of potatoes; J. H. Loring & Co., $1,012.47 for 291 bushels of onions; the Loremore Brothers received $68.75 for 25 gallons of whiskey; and M.P. Fitch, $168.59 for 269 bushels of potatoes. "Abstract of Disbursements On Account of the Prison Fund," Mar.-May 1865, entry 11, RG 249, "Statement of Prison Funds," Feb.-May 1865.
(26) Holmes, Elmira Prison Camp, 340.
(27) Marcus B. Toney, The Privations of a Private (Nashville, Tenn.: Publishing House of the M. E. Church, South, Smith & Lamar, Agents, 1907), 98. The Tennessean added, "We had the same kind of scandal in the corned beef business during the Spanish-American War; we would nowadays call them grafters."
(28) Holmes, Elmira Prison Camp, 340.
(29) Ausburn Towner, History of the Chemung County, New York (Syracuse, N.Y.: D. Mason & Co., 1892), 273; Undated Newspaper Clipping, Prison File, Chemung County Historical Society, Elmira, New York; Holmes, Elmira Prison Camp, 92.
(30) "Persons and Articles Hired at Elmira, New York." entry 238, RG 92,
(31) J. J. Elwell to M. C. Meigs, Aug. 14, Sept. 9, 1864, "Records of the Quartermaster General, Letters Received."
(32) "Persons and Articles Hired." In October, the prison fund expended $230.02 for paying citizens and soldiers working inside the prison. In November, $199.05 was paid to "Clerks, Orderlies, Mechanics, & Laborers in Military Prison." By April, 1865, the free labor force earned $703.51, and May, $431.85. "Abstract of Disbursements," Oct., Nov., 1864, Apr., May, 1865, entry 11, RG. 249.
(33) Daily Advertiser, Aug. 12, 1864; Holmes, Elmira Prison Camp, 343-45. William Merwin charged $112 for four single sets of cart harnesses at $28 apiece. Palmer & Knowl repaired prison carts at a fee of about $20, "Statement of Prison Funds, Letters Received" Apr. 30, May 19, 1865, "Abstract of Disbursements" May 1865, entry 11, RG 249.
(34) "Persons and Articles Hired."
(35) It might take as many as 12 grosses of matches, two grosses of lamp wicks, and from 250 to more than 500 gallons of kerosene oil to keep the prison illuminated for a month. Cook & Covell charged 75[cnts.] a gallon for the oil. "List of Quartermaster Stores at Elmira, NY," Nov. 1864, Jan., Feb., Apr. 1865, entry 11, RG 249; "Statement of Prison Funds," Mar. 31, Apr. 29, 1865.
(36) "List of Quartermaster Stores," Jan. 1865; "Statement of Prison Funds," Jan. 31, Mar. 31, 1865. Besides building material, Russell & French charged from $2.25 to $3.50 a day for their work as masons. The cost per barrel of lime was $1.75, and the camp could average from 30 to 60 barrels a month for disinfecting privies. Cook & Covell also supplied lime. "List of Quartermaster Stores," Nov. 1864, Jan., Feb., Apr. 1865.
(37) In July 1864, Presnick & Dudley sold $145.91 in supplies; In August, $117.58, September, $93.91 December, $270.45, January, $113.97, February, 1865, $165.97, and from March $181.25. In addition, Hall Brothers sold more than $400 to the prison. "Statement of Prison Funds," July 19, 31, 1864, Aug. 29, 30, Sept. 30, December 31, Feb. 28, 1865; "Abstract of Disbursements," Oct., 1864, Apr., May, 1865.
(38) In February 1865, George McGrath supplied the hospital with 5,800 pounds of hay for $87, in March, 13,900 for $208.50, and in April, 8,112 for $109.51. R. Simmons provided 4, 150 pounds for $51.87. From March through May, 1865, D. D. Reynolds & Co., J. G. Widing, George McGrath, W. T. Post, and J. A. Sly, all furnished straw for prisoners, for a total of around $200. "Statement of Prison Funds," Feb. 28, Mar. 31, Apr. 11, 30, 1865; "Abstract of Disbursements," Mar.-May, 1865.
(39) The costly medicines included opium, ammonia, mustard, acetic acid, chalk, morphine, quinine, and juniper berries, which were purchased by the prison fund. John K. Perry & Son also sold provisions, and in September 1864, Elmira prison chief Eugene F. Sanger approved an expenditure for $63.15 from his store. By February 1865, Cook & Covell was even selling $92 in drugs to the pen. From February through April, Ingraham & Robinson charged nearly $500 in medicine for the prison hospital."Statement of Prison Funds," Sept. 13, 1864, Feb. 20, 28, 1865, Mar. 20, Apr. 8, 20.
(40) Holmes, Elmira Prison Camp, 131, 140-43, 145-46; The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 128 vols. (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1880-1901), ser. 2, vol. 7, 506 (hereafter cited as OR), "Burial Report to the Quartermaster General," Sept. 23, 1874, entry 576, RG 92.
(41) The New York Sun, Aug. 13, 1880.
(42) Jones was responsible for directing the "interring the remains, setting headboards and recording deaths." "Receipt of Rolls of Employees paid by the Prison Fund," 1864-65, entry 11, RG 249; "Ledgers of Deceased Prisoners of War, Elmira, New York" in the William N. R. Beall Collection, Prisoner of War Series, Eleanor S. Brockenbrough Library, The Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia; "Lease Agreement at Woodlawn," Jan. 1, 1865, entry 576, RG 92; "Veteran Administration Pamphlet, Woodlawn National Cemetery, Elmira, N.Y.; "Burial Report," Sept. 23, 1874, entry 576, RG 92.
(43) R.G. 249, entry 11, box 142, "Receipt of Rolls of Employees paid by Prison Fund," 1865; Toney, Privations, 109. Palmer and Knowl were responsible for repairing the hearse. In January, March, and April 1865, they rendered their services, which cost $24.25. Lumber for the construction of coffins would be more expensive, 35[cnts.] for every ten feet. In January 1865, 18,000 feet of lumber was required; in February, 24,000 feet; and in April 10,000 feet of lumber was "Used in the construction of coffins for deceased prisoners." In March, when deaths were highest, Spaulding & Haskell was paid $770 for supplying 22,000 feet of "coffin lumber," and Hatch & Partridge provided 10,000 feet for $350 so inmates could be properly buried. "List of Quartermaster Stores," Jan., Feb., Apr. 1865; "Statement of Prison Funds," Jan. 31, Mar. 31, Apr. 30, 1865.
(44) "Records of the Quartermaster General, List of buildings inside the enclosure at Barracks No. 3, Elmira, N.Y.," entry 225, RG 92; Toney, Privations, 109-10; John R. King, My Experience in the Confederate Army and in Northern Prisons (Clarksburg, W. Va.: United Daughters of the Confederacy, 1917), 40; Holmes, Elmira Prison Camp, 129; Daily Advertiser, Aug. 25,1864; James Marion Howard, "A Short Sketch of My Early Life" typescript, Chemung County Historical Society, Elmira, N.Y., 16.
(45) Toney, Privations, 109-10.
(46) Holmes, Elmira Prison Camp, 129-30; "Woodlawn National Cemetery Pamphlet"; The New York Sun, Aug. 13, 1880; OR, 8:1001.
(47) "Persons and Articles Hired." Holmes, Elmira Prison Camp, 130; Confederate Veteran, vol. 22, 1914, 396. "List of Quartermaster Stores," Apr. 1864. Cook & Covell supplied the paint for writing identification on the headboards. In April, 1865, for example, 100 pounds of powdered white lead paint were required for that purpose, costing the prison fund $18. Ibid., box 142, "Statement of Prison Funds," Apr. 30, 1865.
(48) Holmes, Elmira Prison Camp, 130-31.
(49) Ibid., 131. Census records stated Jones was a mulatto, age forty-seven, had a framed house estimated at $2,000, and was a voter and an owner of land. New York Census Records, 1865, Ward 1, John W. Jones. Clay Holmes wrote after retirement Jones "lived quietly on his little farm, working if he liked, spending much time in doing little acts of kindness to others." Ibid., 150.
(50) Daily Advertiser, Dec. 2, Sept. 21, 23, 1864, June 30, 1865; Elmira Star-Gazette, May 17, 1993.
(51) "Persons and Articles Hired."
(52) Daily Advertiser, Nov. 16, 1864.
(53) Ibid., Aug. 29, 1864.
(54) Daily Advertiser, July 11, 29, Sept 6, 1864; John Kaufhold, "The Elmira Observatory," Civil War Times Illustrated (July 1977): 30-32.
(55) Daily Advertiser, Aug. 10, Sept. 9, 1864.
(56) Ibid., Sept. 6, 13, 1864, Aug. 30, 1864; Holmes, Elmira Prison Camp, 35; Kaufhold, "The Elmira Observatory" 32; Anthony M. Keiley, In Vinculis; or, The Prisoner of War (Petersburg, Virginia, 1866), 158.
(57) G. W. D. Porter, "Nine Months in a Northern Prisons," The Annals of the Army Of Tennessee and Early Western History 14 (July 1878): 159.
(58) James Huffman, Ups and Downs of a Confederate Soldier (New York: William E. Rudge's Sons, 1940), 105.
(59) Keiley, In Vinculis, 158-59.
(60) Charles Petrillo, The Junction Canal (1855-1871) Elmira, New York to Athens, Pennsylvania (Easton, Pa.: Canal History and Technology Press, 1991), 20l-2; Thomas E. Byrne, ed., Chemung County ... Its History (Elmira, N.Y.: Chemung County Historical Society, 1961), 16; Elmira Sun Telegram, Aug. 25, 1940; Arthur Keifer, "Junction Canal: Elmira to Athens," Chemung Historical Journal (Sept. 1992): 4173.
(61) Daily Advertiser, Nov. 18, 1864.
(62) Coal cost $10.92 1/2 per ton. J. D. Baldwin provided the prison in February with 848,620 pounds of coal for $4,635.58. In March, he furnished 379 tons for $4,145.81. And in April, just 69,591 for $380.15; "Statement of Prison Funds," Feb. 28, Mar. 31, Apr. 30, 1865; Petrillo, Junction Canal, 201-2; Keifer, "Junction," 4, 173.
(63) "Suydam's Annual Report, 1865;" R. Burdell to E. M. Stanton, May 25, 1866, "Consolidated Correspondence, Erie Railroad," entry 225, RG 92.
(64) M. C. Meigs to E. M. Stanton, June 4, 1866, "Consolidated Correspondence, Erie Railroad.".
(65) Hatch & Partridge to M. C. Meigs, Mar. 14, 1865, "Letters Received," entry 225, RG 92
(66) Hatch & Partridge to M. C. Meigs, Mar. 14, 1865.
(67) N. J. Sappington to A. B. Eaton, Mar. 1, 1865, "Letters Received" entry 10, RG 192.
(68) "Records of the Commissary General of Prisons, Expenditures," entry 16, 77, RG 249; "Abstract of Disbursements," Mar. 1865; "Statement of Prison Funds," Mar. 31, 1865.
(69) Daily Advertiser, May 1, 1865.
(71) It was wishful thinking for the paper to speculate that the government might make the military depot "a permanent affair." Ibid.
(72) Daily Advertiser, Nov. 16, 1864.
(73) Ibid., Feb. 23, 1865.
(74) Ibid., May 10, 1865.
(75) Ibid. Some workers at the prison were fortunate to work throughout May, such as George Mathews, Lochmon May, and Horace Little, clerks earning $100 a month; Harrison Hart, Darwin Rudd, Henry Osborn, and Robert Even, all clerks except the latter, each earned 40 [cts.] daily. Sexton John Jones and hearse driver John Donohoe would also remain on the payroll. "Receipt Roll," Apr.-May 1865, entry 11, RG 249,
(76) Daily Advertiser, July 14, 1865.
(77) "Abstract of Articles," entry 11, RG 249, July 1865. Only four local businesses were on the July account, Hall Brothers, Spaulding & Haskell, Cook & Covell, and Loremore Brothers, culminating in a bill of $724.80.
(78) Daily Advertiser, Aug. 4, 1865.
(79) "Expenditures"; "Persons and Articles Hired."
(80) J. J. Elwell to J. D. Bingham, Nov. 14, 20, 1865, "Letters Received," entry 225, RG 92.
(81) Holmes, Elmira Prison Camp, 276; "Consolidated Report of Prison Funds" entry 16, 77, RG 249; N. J. Sappington to A. B. Eaton, Sept. 7, 1865, "Letters Received," entry 17, RG 192.
(82) "Remarks on the Influence of War," New York Census Records, Elmira, New York, 1865.
(83) Ottman, "History of Elmira,, 170.
(84) Daily Advertiser, June 20, 1865.
(85) June 28, 1865," General Correspondence."
(86) Samuel M. Guthe, New York Census Records, Elmira, New York, 1865.
(87) D. T. Billings, New York Census Records.
(88) Edwin Munson, New York Census Records.
(90) "Expenditures"; The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, part 2, vol. 5: Medical History (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1879), 50-63; Holland Thompson, ed., The Photographic History of the Civil War, vol. 8; Prisons and Hospitals (New York: The Review of Reviews Co., 1911), 44, 54, 56, 69.
(91) "Expenditures"; George Levy, To Die in Chicago: Confederate Prisoners at Camp Douglas 1862-1865 (Evanston, Ill.: Evanston Publishing, 1994), 7, 9
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