Where-What-Who-When-Why & What Went Wrong





What went wrong

Political Views
Then & Now

Elmira, New York - a city on the Chemung River

At the beginning of the Civil War, Elmira had been a military recruiting depot where soldiers attended basic training. Later in the war Elmira was chosen as a draft rendezvous, and then a new prisoner of war camp. The first prisoners arrived at the camp on July 6, 1864. The last prisoners left the camp on July 11, 1865.

12,122 Confederate enlisted and non-commissioned officers POWs were assigned to Elmira.

July 6, 1864 - July 11, 1865

Elmira had ample barracks at the time. The North needed a place to house prisoners.

Barrack space was ample for 5,000 prisoners, but 10,000 arrived and were forced to live in tents along the Chemung River. Keep in mind the weather in New York State from October to April. Lack of nourishing food, extreme bouts of dysentery, typhoid, pneumonia, smallpox, lack of doctors and medicine, and flooding of the Chemung River, caused the deaths of 2,963 prisoners who are interned in Woodlawn National Cemetery on Elmira's northside. Forty-eight more who died in the Shohola Train Wreck while en route to the prison are also buried there.

In the time of the prison camp in Elmira, the North was right and the South was wrong and the prisoners were (mis)treated accordingly. For over 130 years the mistreatments of prisoners were dismissed as rumor.

"The horrors of a camp where prisoners of war are crowded into a confined space, poorly clad, uncomfortably housed, insufficiently fed, and scantily provided with medical attendance, hospital accommodations, and other provisions for the sick, form one of the most deplorable features of any war, but none of these can apply with truth to the camp at Elmira, nor can they be attached for a moment to the reputation or become a portion of the history of the fair valley of the Chemung."

The History of Chemung County, Ausburn Towner, 1892.

History books of the time held the denial and heralded the excellent care of the Southern prisoners of war. The truth about the camp (the lack of food, medicine, and shelter) finally began surfacing in the past few years with several new books about the Elmira Prison Camp. It had taken over 130 years to admit the abuse.

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