Enemy Combatants: African American Soldiers in Confederate Prisons

Thursday, January 7, 2010: 3:40 PM
Marina Ballroom Salon D (Marriott)
Thomas J. Ward Jr. , Spring Hill College, Mobile, AL
As one might expect, the experiences of African-American prisoners-of-war during the Civil War are especially fascinating given the backdrop of slavery’s impact on the war and the fact that the majority of the almost 200,000 Black Union soldiers were former slaves.  The status of African-American soldiers captured by Confederate forces was a matter of dispute, in light of Jefferson Davis’ 1862 proclamation that black soldiers not be accorded prisoner-of-war status, but instead that “be at once delivered over to the executive authorities of the respective States to which they belong to be dealt with according to the laws of said States.”  Despite Davis’ pronouncement on the matter, captured black soldiers were treated in a variety of different ways throughout the war.  Some, indeed, were returned to individual states for punishment and/or re-enslavement; others, quite famously, were subjected to atrocities at the hands of Confederate soldiers on the battlefield, most notably at Ft. Pillow and Petersburg; while still others were imprisoned, usually along with white soldiers, at Confederate prisoner camps throughout the South.  The experiences of the men who actually served time in POW camps has, for the most part, been overlooked by historians of the Civil War, and is the focus of my paper.