Site hosted by Build your free website today!

Elmira Prison Camp OnLine Library –

Submitted Information - Union Index - Union Officer Listing
Col. William Hoffman

eastman.jpg 450x683

In the chain of command for Union prison camps, Col. William Hoffman answered to one man: Secretary of War Stanton. Hoffman served Stanton as the Commissary-General of Prisoners. Like many others involved with Elmira, Hoffman had served in the U.S. Military.

Hoffman's family was a military one. His father, Col. William Hoffman, had served with honor in the War of 1812. Hoffman had graduated from West Point (being a classmate of Col. Seth Eastman) in 1825 (18th out of a class of 46). During the 1850s, Hoffman served in the Mexican-American War and was decorated for his valor.

Out west, years of fighting had marred U.S.-Mojave Nation relations. Spurred by public clamor to "Wipe out the Mojave!" 700 Indian fighters led by Col. William Hoffman were sent in 1859 from San Francisco. Though there was no combat, and the Mojaves insisted the attack was instigated by the Hualapais, Col. Hoffman on April 24, threatened to take the Great Chief Homoseh Awahot to Yuma Prison as a hostage to show the Mojaves the might of the U.S. Government. The great chief was elderly, so his nephews, along with the sub- chief Cairook, went in his place. They were told release would be in one year, but a year passed, so an escape was planned. By holding the lone guard at noon while the other, younger hostages dived into the river, swimming under water to escape, Cairook gave his life. This movement by Hoffman saw the creation of Fort Mohave in 1859. The fort was the site of a meeting of the Arizona State Assembly in 1864 to establish Mohave County.

Just prior to the start of the war, he was serving in Texas. When Texas succeeded, Hoffman refused to support the Southern cause and he was taken prisoner by rebels troops. He was held until his release on August 27, 1862. It is ironic that this man, who served as a prisoner, was to lead the office that controlled the handling and care of Confederate troops held in the North.

After his release, Hoffman made his way to Washington, D.C. He assumed command of the U.S. Infantry Regiment of D.C. (the Old Guard), a position that he held until 1869. He was also the commandant of the Union prison of Johnson's Island, Ohio. While serving at that post, he creatd four regiments of guards who were stationed at the prison. They became known as Hoffman's Battalion and were commanded first by Lt. Col. William S. Pierson, and then by command of Col. Charles W. Hill

Upon his return to Washington, two of his most important talents came to light: he was able to grasp the War department's arcane bureaucracy and he was tight with money and funds. The unwillingness to spend allocated money was evident when at the end of the war, he was able to return to the Union treasury a total of $1,845,126 which was originally allocated to feed the Confederate prisoners. In addition, Hoffman possessed an unusual understanding of all Union military posts. As the chief officer in charge of assigning and finding locations to house Confederate prisoners of war, this information was essential. And on May 14, 1864, Col. Hoffman was informed about a number of barracks in a quite New York town. Remembering from his files the outlines of the camp, he began to develop a plan that would eventually move some 11,000 men to Elmira, New York.

Hoffman's record as commissary-general of prisoners is mixed to bad, at best. The Elmira Camp is well documented in this site. In other locations, things were just as bad. At Fort Delaware, the camp commandant, General Albin F. Schoepf, opening pocketed $23,000 which were meant to buy food for the prisoners. Schoepf allowed torture of the prisoners for minor infractions and even had one private show due to his slow walking. The last prisoner was not released from Fort delaware until well into 1866.

Col. Hoffman was replaced on November 11, 1864 and reassigned to the post of inspector an commissary general of prisoners for the western part of the United States. His replacement was Brig. Gen. Henry W. Wessells. Wessells remained in the position only a few months and on February 1, 1865, Hoffman returned, this time with the rank of brevet brigadier general.