Family Tree Friday: Confederate records about Union POWs
Since I introduced a lot of information about Confederate prisoners of war in my last blog post, it seemed appropriate to mention what material we also have available relating to Union POWs held in Confederate military prisons. As you may imagine, records about Confederate prison camps are not nearly as complete as those for Union prisons; such material also fell victim to deliberate destruction in the last days of the war, so we only have records relating to some of the major Confederate camps, but not all of them. Those records that did survive the war were turned over to the Union Commissary General of Prisoners in the War Department, so here again we have the interesting juxtaposition of Confederate source material that is now arranged in a record group relating to a Union military office (in this case, it’s Record Group 249, Records of the Commissary General of Prisoners).
You might logically think these records should be with the other Confederate material in RG 109 (War Department Collection of Confederate Records, mentioned in previous blog posts), but since they contain information about Union prisoners of war, the records fell under the jurisdiction of the Commissary General of Prisoners, whose office was created by the War Department in 1862 specifically to document Union prisoners held in the South, facilitate their release, and to hold and process paroled prisoners in federal parole camps until they were formally exchanged. These functions, of course, were in addition to the duties of managing Confederate prisoners in the Union military prison system. The Commissary General gathered information from regimental returns, and also to some extent negotiated the exchange of information about Union captives from Confederate authorities, to assemble several general compilations about Union prisoners held in the South. These series include a “Register of Federal Prisoners of War Confined in Confederate Prisons” (ARC ID 610807), “Registers of Federal Troops Captured by the Enemy” (ARC ID 610809), and “Register of Federal Prisoners of War Confined in Confederate Prisons and Hospitals, 1862-65″ (ARC ID 615725).
Material for specific Confederate prisons include some of the original records as well as copies of records transcribed by Union officials and later distributed to various offices in the War Department (mainly to facilitate paperwork relating to former Union prisoners), which is why on many of the bound ledgers you will find notations such as “This register was kept by Rebel Authorities.” Registers, lists, daybooks, or morning reports of inmates exist for Confederate prisons at Danville (VA); several facilities in Richmond, including Libby Prison, Castle Thunder Prison, Belle Island, and Barret Factory Prison; and prison hospitals at Salisbury (NC), Cahaba (AL), and Florence (SC).
The most extensive series of records, however, are for Camp Sumter, Georgia, which of course was known more notoriously as Andersonville. The records include general registers of prisoners, lists of prisoners admitted to the prison hospital, and records of deaths and burials. The latter, in particular, include original registers arranged by grave number, as well as incomplete copies of the same records prepared by the War Department and other burial lists of prisoners compiled by Federal soldiers at Andersonville. These records have all been reproduced on microfilm as National Archives Publication M1303, Selected Records of the War Department Commissary General of Prisoners Relating to Federal Prisoners of War Confined at Andersonville, Georgia, 1864-1865. Also available digitally on Ancestry.com as part of their “Civil War Prisoner of War Records” database, the Andersonville records offer particularly detailed evidence of the harrowing experience of prisoners of war during the Civil War. Any exploration of Union POWs in Confederate military prisons should start here.