north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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     Shortly after Governor John W. Ellis led North Carolina out of the Union on May 20, 1861, the state assumed a prominent role in the Confederacy, providing soldiers and equipment to the rebel cause. While the its role as supplier endeared it to the Confederates, North Carolina became a target for Union raids designed to break southern supply lines and destroy key facilities, such as the Confederate prison in Salisbury.

     Early in the war, the Confederacy purchased an old cotton mill in southeast Salisbury for $15,000 and converted the structure into a place of confinement. The prison’s massive iron doors opened for the first time on December 9, 1861. Many of the incarcerated spent their time writing, whittling, or playing baseball—perhaps the first games hosted in the south. Indeed, one prisoner noted that life within the prison was “more endurable than any other part of Rebeldom.” In time, however, the prison at Salisbury reached capacity, and in the autumn of 1864, contained almost 7,000 prisoners, far more than the facility was designed to accommodate. Statewide supply shortages and rampant disease led to a surge in death rates, forcing guards to prepare mass graves for deceased inmates, along with casualties from nearby hospitals.

      Near the close of the war, conditions within the prison convinced leaders to conduct prisoner exchanges, the most notable of which occurred in February 1865. Three months later, Union General George Stoneman led his forces across western North Carolina. One of his main objectives was the liberation and destruction of the Salisbury prison. The prison had been abandoned and converted into a supply depot by the time the fire that consumed the complex was extinguished on April 13, 1865. Only the garrison house survived from the original prison camp, along with a few artifacts including a tattered Confederate flag. The Federal government acquired the makeshift prison cemetery in 1868, and two years later the sacred ground was designated Salisbury National Cemetery, honoring over 11,000 American soldiers, both Union and Confederate, who lost their lives during the war.


References:
Louis A. Brown, The Salisbury Prison: A Case Study of Confederate Military Prisons, 1861-1865 (1992)
John G. Barrett, The Civil War in North Carolina (1963)
Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003)
Salisbury North Carolina Confederate Civil War Prison and National Cemetery website: http://salisburyprison.gorowan.com/
Salisbury Confederate Prison Association, “Prison History”:
http://www.salisburyprison.org/PrisonHistory.htm



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