Prisons During the Civil War
Elmira Prison Camp began operations on July 6th 1864. The camp was one that would be infamous for its brutality and high death count. Originally named Camp Rathbun, it was a Federal Government Camp for captured Confederate soldiers.
Revamped and re-tooled with more barracks added, the prison camp emerged as Elmira Prison Camp. There were actually four camps in the north that were designated as prison camps for the Confederate soldiers that were captured during battle. Most of these camps were located in western New York State, far away from the Civil War lines.
In order to transition the Confederate prisoners, they would be housed at one of four prison camps in the northeast, processed, and then sent to Elmira as it had the most space and could hold the largest amount of prisoner population. On July 6, 1864, 400 Rebel prisoners of war were sent marching from Erie Station Prison Camp, to the new camp. These were the first 400 Confederate prisoners that would make up the total of 12,000 prisoners that were being held at Elmira.
This camp was rumored to be one of the worst Union prison camps in the North. It became over crowded within months of opening. The standard population which was mandated by the Union leadership in Washington, D.C. was around 4,000 prisoners of war.
That population had grown to 12,123 Confederate soldiers within a month. 2,963 of those soldiers died. Many Confederate soldiers knew that if they were sent there they would not come out the same person. Death at the camp was due to; lack of food, inadequate shelter, lack of medical supplies, and unsanitary conditions.
When the war ended the prisoners took a loyalty oath and were given railway passes to get back home to the South. The last prisoner at the camp left on September 27, 1865. The camp was then shut down, and demolished.