Archiver > GENEALOGYBITSANDPIECES > 2004-03 > 1078954697

From: "Sally Rolls Pavia" <>
Subject: [Genealogy Bits and Pieces] Elmira "Hellmira" NY Prison Camp During the Civil War
Date: Wed, 10 Mar 2004 14:38:26 -0700

Am sure we’ve all heard of the prison camp at Andersonville, GA. But, how
many of us know about the prison camp at Elmira, NY. Check out this site for
more information.

Elmira "Hellmira" Prison

Almost 25 percent of the 12,123 Confederate soldiers who entered the 40 acre
prisoner of war camp at Elmira, N. Y. died. This death rate was more than
double the average death rate in other Northern prison camps, and only 2
percent less than the death rare at infamous Southern prison at
Andersonville, Ga. The deaths at Elmira were caused by diseases brought on
by terrible living conditions and starvation, conditions deliberately caused
by the vindictive U. S. commissary-general of prisons, Col. William Hoffman.
The conditions were inexcusable; the North had more than enough food and
materials for its armies, population, and prisoners.

A stockade was built around an unused Union army training camp to create
Elmira "Hellmira" Prison in June 1864. The prison contained 35 barracks and
was intended to house as many as 5,000 prisoners. On July 6 the first 400
arrived, and by the end of the month there were more than 4,400 prisoners,
with more on the way. By the end of August almost 10,000 men were confined
there, many of them sleeping in the open in tattered clothes and without

On August 18, in retaliation for the conditions in Southern prison camps,
Colonel Hoffman ordered that rations for the prisoners be reduced to bread
and water. The over crowded conditions ensured that any disease introduced
to the malnourished population would spread rapidly. Without meat and
vegetables, the prisoners quickly succumbed to scurvy, with 1, 870 cased
reported by September 11. The scurvy was followed by an epidemic of diarrhea
then pneumonia and smallpox. By the end of the year, 1,264 prisoners had
died, and survivors had nicknamed the prison "Hellmira". The winter was
bitterly cold, but when Southern families sent clothes for the prisoners,
Hoffman would allow only items that were gray to be distributed. Clothes in
other color were burned while the sons and husbands for whom they were
intended literally froze to death. By the end of the war, 2,973 Elmira
prisoners had died.

Before resigning to avoid court martial for his criminal treatment of sick
prisoners, the chief surgeon at Elmira was overheard to boast that he had
killed more Rebs than any Union soldier.

The Elmira Article was written by Stephen T. Foster

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