35th Georgia Infantry Regiment’s Experience at Point Lookout Prison

35th Georgia Infantry Regiment’s Experience at Point Lookout Prison

A number of Georgia Confederate soldiers struggled to survive at various Federal hell-hole prisons well after the war ended in Virginia. The 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment’s private John Frank Edwards was captured at Fort Gregg [The Confederate Alamo] on April 2, 1865. His scary story begins at the Union supply depot at City Point near Petersburg where he boarded a boat full of fellow prisoners – destination unknown.

Pvt. Frank Edwards, Co. D, 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment

Pvt. Frank Edwards, Co. D, 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment

Edwards recalled, “we went out on the boats toward hell, if you will excuse the expression. It proved to be a veritable hades.” The disgruntled prisoners were unsure of their destination as the boat weighed anchor and steamed down the James River. Uncertainty weighed heavily on the twenty-two-year-old Edwards. “Those seemed to be the darkest days of my life, hard fighting, thirsty, hungry, half clad, no future, our army almost gone, so many of our brave heroes killed on the battlefield, our homes burned, our cities destroyed and we prisoners of war, out on the waters of the great ocean, and did not know where we would land.” He did not believe the written word could really describe how black that night really was. His only consolation, which he called a privilege, was his ability to pray to God for protection.

On the afternoon of April 5, the boat docked at the wharf for Point Lookout, Maryland. Black soldiers in blue uniforms came on board and ordered the prisoners into a formation. Roll was called and two prisoners were missing. Upon interrogation it was discovered that these two prisoners had jumped overboard in the darkness of night – no doubt to a watery grave. The guards then stripped the men of all their personal items and marched them off the boat toward the looming walls of the prison.

Point Lookout, Maryland Prison Camp

Point Lookout, Maryland Prison Camp

Point Lookout, Maryland, was established on a long sandy point where the Potomac River ran into the Chesapeake Bay. The first prisoners arrived shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. The camp was almost at sea level thus drainage was poor and the area was subjected to high winds and temperature extremes. Point Lookout was the only Federal prison that did not use barracks to house the prisoners, but instead only tents. It was the largest Union prison camp of the war and held not only thousands of Georgia Confederates but soldiers from every state in the Confederacy. During its two-year existence, the tall walls held more than 52,000 military and civilian prisoners.  Some 3,000 of these prisoners perished due to the squalid conditions.

A fifteen foot high wooden fence surrounded the prison. Frank Edwards received a close call shortly after his arrival:

“We found about twenty-five thousand prisoners on ten acres of land, which of course, made it very much crowded. I passed on to the lower side. I thought I would step up to the wall and see how far it was to the Chesapeake Bay. I heard several of the men saying, ‘Come back! Come back! You will get killed. Don’t you see that ditch; don’t step across that ditch or you will be killed.’ I was just in the act of stepping over the ditch; only two more steps to carry me over. I looked up and saw a negro guard ready to shoot me when I stepped over. They said nothing to a prisoner. If one stepped over that ditch he was shot without a word. I was in there only ten minutes and came very near getting shot.”

Point Lookout Prison Camp marker

Point Lookout Prison Camp marker

 

More on the 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment’s Frank Edwards and his Point Lookout experience to continue in next post.

 

NOTES

Army Life of Frank Edwards – Confederate Veteran – Army of Northern Virginia 1861-1865. (1906). John Frank Edwards p.41-42, 46.

Red Clay to Richmond: Trail of the 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment by John J. Fox, Angle Valley Press, 2004, p. 328.

 

 

National Magazine Highlights The Confederate Alamo

National Magazine Highlights The Confederate Alamo

The Civil War Monitor, Spring 2015 with recommendation for The Confederate Alamo by John Fox

The Civil War Monitor, Spring 2015 with recommendation for The Confederate Alamo by John Fox

The Civil War Monitor magazine [Spring 2015 issue] highlighted John Fox’s The Confederate Alamo: Bloodbath at Petersburg’s Fort Gregg as one of the five best books about the Petersburg Campaign. The article titled “Closing the Book on the Civil War: The Best Reads on the Conflict’s Last Chapter” was written by noted Petersburg Campaign Historian and Pamplin Historical Park Director Will Greene.  Visit   The Civil War Monitor website or view article below.

The Confederate Alamo listed as one of 5 Best Books on Petersburg Campaign

The Confederate Alamo listed as one of 5 Best Books on Petersburg Campaign

Battle of Fort Gregg [Confederate Alamo] Featured on Confederate Veteran Cover

Battle of Fort Gregg [Confederate Alamo] Featured on Confederate Veteran Cover

Confederate Veteran magazine March/April 2015 cover article by John Fox on The Confederate Alamo at Fort Gregg

Confederate Veteran magazine March/April 2015 cover article by John Fox on The Confederate Alamo at Fort Gregg

We are excited to announce that the staff of Confederate Veteran magazine selected John Fox’s article titled “The Confederate Alamo: Bloodbath at Petersburg’s Fort Gregg on April 2, 1865″ to be their cover piece for the March/April 2015 issue. The article is based on Fox’s 2010 award-winning book about the bloody fight at Fort Gregg that enabled R.E. Lee’s Confederate army to escape from Petersburg, thus extending the war for another week. The 150th anniversary of the Confederate Alamo took place on April 2.

35th Georgia Infantry Regiment’s John Rigby at Elmira Prison Camp

35th Georgia Infantry Regiment’s John Rigby at Elmira Prison Camp

The previous blog detailed the wounding and capture of the 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment’s John Rigby at the Battle of the Wilderness. Rigby was from Troup County, Georgia. His wife and immediate family had no idea what had happened to John because when the war ended he never returned to the family farm. He left behind three young sons and his wife, Nancy A. Scogin Rigby, never gave up hope that he would return home. When she died in 1897 she ensured that a spot would be left vacant next to her grave for John. [see blogpost on 4/15/2015]

Nancy Rigby headstone – wife of John Rigby, 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment. See link below for image credit.

Nancy Rigby headstone – wife of John Rigby, 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment. See link below for image credit.

What they did not know was that early on the morning of May 6, 1864, Rigby and his fellow Georgia Confederates manned the line along the Orange Plank Road that sliced through the tangled undergrowth of a place in central Virginia named The Wilderness. Then suddenly, surrounded on three sides by Yankees, the Georgia line broke amidst the smoke and a hail of bullets. In the chaos, something hit Rigby and he went down, wounded again. He had been shot two years before in the right thigh and left breast which had collapsed a lung. This initial wounding kept him out of action for six months while he recovered.

Yet his arrival at the notorious Federal prison located in Elmira, New York would begin the most desperate struggle of Rigby’s life. He died at “Hellmira” nearly a year after his capture and almost a month after the surrender of Robert E. Lee’s army at Appomattox.

Now fast forward to the 20th century. Some of Rigby’s descendants discovered that he was buried in Woodlawn National Cemetery in grave 2756 on the outskirts of Elmira. In September 1995, James and Wanda Pollard from McDonough, Georgia made the long drive to Elmira to visit the grave of Rigby who was James’ great-great grandfather. Their vehicle held a 20 pound bag of red Georgia clay that they spread over his grave. James said, “He [Rigby] was true to the end. In the end John probably knew he would never see Southern soil again, so I thought I would bring some Georgia soil to him.”

Headstone for Pvt. John Rigby, Co. D, 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment, Woodlawn National Cemetery at Elmira NY. See link to left for image credit.

Headstone for Pvt. John Rigby, Co. D, 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment, Woodlawn National Cemetery at Elmira NY. See link to left for image credit.

The family of the 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment’s John Rigby finally had their closure on his demise.

Notes:

Red Clay to Richmond: Trail of the 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment by John Fox, Angle Valley Press, 2004, p. 327.

Quote from Elmira: Death Camp of the North by Michael Horigan, Stackpole Books, 2002, p. 198.

John Rigby’s grave info on findagrave.com

Nancy Rigby’s info on findagrave.com

Postwar Prison Camp for 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment

Postwar Prison Camp for 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment

By John Fox

Pvt John Rigby, Company D, 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment. Died at Elmira [NY] Federal Priosn Camp, May 1865

Pvt John Rigby, Company D, 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment. Died at Elmira [NY] Federal Prison Camp, May 1865

The war ended for those bedraggled Confederate veterans who surrendered with General R. E. Lee’s at Appomattox Court House 150 years ago. But what about the Rebel soldiers who were locked away in the horrible Union prison camps with names like Elmira, Point Lookout and Fort Delaware to name a few? Well, their war continued as they fought disease, poor weather and inhuman prison guards.

My book Red Clay to Richmond, Trail of the 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment [2004] details this ugly situation in Appendix A which is titled “From Hell to Home.” Every few days I will post here several paragraphs that outline what happened to some of these 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment soldiers while in Federal hands. This is a story that is disgusting, yet you will not read about it in the mainstream sanitized history books.

As Lee’s army surrendered, some less fortunate soldiers fought for their lives and their humanity in Union prisoner of war camps. For those men who were captured in the closing days of the Petersburg campaign – a new kind of hell on earth awaited them. Others like John Rigby had endured this hell for even longer. Rigby had been captured at the beginning of Grant’s Overland Campaign in May 1864. He endured the harsh New York winter of 1864-65 at Elmira only to succumb to disease less than a month after the Appomattox surrender. Federal officials logged, “One blanket, one vest, one shirt, and one pair of pants,” as his remaining possessions at his death. Rigby had used these few items for protection during the previous winter when the thermometer frequently dropped below zero degrees.

Rigby from Company D out of Troup County had been captured at the Battle of the Wilderness, but he was listed as missing in action on the 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment’s muster rolls. A total of 23 of the 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment had been captured in this fight and all were listed as MIA. Conditions at Elmira were so stark that the prisoners referred to the place as Hellmira because it would have the highest mortality rate [24.3%] of all Union prisons. Ten of these twenty-three Georgia Confederates would die in prison.

Rigby’s wife, Nancy, never knew what had happened to her husband. Since Rigby was the only member of his company captured at the Wilderness, his family never learned of his exact fate. His wife always believed he would come home and she refused to apply for a government veteran’s pension until 1893. She died in 1897. The family buried her at Liberty Cemetery in Bremen, Georgia, with an empty spot next to her grave – for John – should he ever return.

The next post will outline how Rigby’s Georgia descendants honored his memory

 

NOTES
*Above info via Rigby Family records courtesy of Mr. Mark Pollard, McDonough, Ga.
*Elmira death stats comes from Elmira: Death Camp of the North by Michael Horigan, 2002, Stackpole Books, p. 193.

Upcoming Civil War Talk Radio Interview

Upcoming Civil War Talk Radio Interview

6th Pennsylvania Cavalrymen commanded by Colonel Richard Rush. Known as Rush's Lancers

6th Pennsylvania Cavalrymen commanded by Colonel Richard Rush. Known as Rush’s Lancers

John Fox is looking forward to being interviewed on Civil War Talk Radio on Wednesday evening, April 15 at 7 pm by the show’s host Dr. Gerry Prokopowicz. Gerry is Chairman of the History Department at East Carolina University.The show appears on Voice of America and the link is below. They will be discussing “Stuart’s Finest Hour: The Ride Around McClellan, June 1862″ which Fox wrote in 2013. Listen in and follow the dusty 110-mile trail as Stuart’s troopers hope to keep from being shot down by their Union pursuers.

Link for Civil War Talk Radio

Remembering the Battle of Ft. Gregg – The Confederate Alamo

6_photoJohn Fox will give two presentations and lead a battlefield tour for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Fort Gregg which is known as the Confederate Alamo. On Wednesday, April 1 at 12 noon, John Fox will speak at the Virginia Historical Society for their Banner Lecture Series. Then the following day, Thursday April 2 he will lead a battlefield tour at the remains of Fort Gregg on Boydton Plank Road in Dinwiddie County at 1:45 pm followed by a 3 pm presentation at Pamplin Historical Park at 6125 Boydton Plank Road. Fox wrote the award winning book The Confederate Alamo

Click here for VHS link for info is   

Click here for Pamplin Park link for info is

 

New Book Now Ready! Gettysburg’s Confederate Dead: An Honor Roll From America’s Greatest Battle by Krick & Ferguson

New Book Now Ready! Gettysburg’s Confederate Dead: An Honor Roll From America’s Greatest Battle by Krick & Ferguson

Hot Off the Press!

Softcover, 8 x 11, 180 pages,    $22.95IMG_20140915_171959_286

Gettysburg’s Confederate Dead: An Honor Roll From America’s Greatest Battle, by historians Robert K. Krick and Chris L. Ferguson, is the most complete technological list to date of the more than 5,000 Southern dead from the bloody Battle of Gettysburg. This roster contains background info on Confederate burials from the fight, but more importantly it lists the dead by name, rank, unit, DOB if known, personal data and burial site. Civil War buffs, Confederate veterans’ relatives, historians and genealogists will find this book to be a valuable research document to have on their coffee table or bookshelf.

Click on Featured Title or Our Books above to Purchase.

Two Angle Valley Press Titles Available as E-Books | John Fox

stuarts_finest_hourStuart’s Finest Hour: The Ride Around McClellan, June 1862   is ready as an E-Book at  KINDLE  and NOOK. Stuart’s Finest Hour is also available on  I-TUNES. The Confederate Alamo: Bloodbath at Petersburg’s Ft. Gregg is available in  KINDLE    and    NOOK.  Many thanks to Savas Beatie Historical Publishers for their help making these award-winning books possible!      6_photo

Angle Valley Press 10th Anniversary & Father’s Day Sale – Huge Civil War Book Discounts!

Celebrate the 10th anniversary of Angle Valley Press together with the upcoming Father’s Day. We are steeply discounting almost all of our Civil War books until midnight on Sunday June 22. We want to thank all of our customers for your support since 2004! CLICK ABOVE ON “OUR BOOKS” ICON to see the SPECIALS.