SALISBURY, N.C.The Union lost more men at the Salisbury prison than on any battlefield of the Civil War.
A monument erected in 1875 at the Salisbury National Cemetery says 11,700 Union solders were buried in 18 trenches during 1864 and 1865. Scholars and historians say the actual death toll was closer to 3,800.
The most Union men killed in battle: 3,155 at Gettysburg.
Salisbury pales in comparison to Andersonville, Ga., where 12,912 Union soldiers perished. Over 5,000 of those died in August and September of 1864, while Gen. George Stoneman himself was a Confederate prisoner.
Gen. Stoneman was trying to liberate Andersonville when he was captured July 31, 1864. Southerners respected his rank and held him in homes in Macon and Charleston, rather than dumping him at Andersonville. Gen. Sherman freed Stoneman along with Major Myles Keogh Sept. 30, 1864, by exchanging a captive Confederate, Gen. Daniel C. Govan.
That was about the time the Union and the Confederacy stopped exchanging prisoners, which was the root of the problem at Salisbury. Sudden overcrowding in the fall of 1864 resulted in over 3,000 deaths that winter as a result of disease, hunger, and exposure.
As hard as it is to believe, in 1862 the Salisbury prison was more like a way station. The Union and Confederacy regularly exchanged prisoners, and most were detained just a few months at Salisbury. In 1863, the Salisbury stockade was used more as a jail for Confederate deserters and common criminals. Not until October 1864 did it become a death trap.
Typical of the early prisoners was Capt. Otto Boetticher, a German immigrant who was captured at Warrenton, Va., in March, 1862 and released six months later. He was renowned as an sketch artist, and one of his illustrations made history.
|Base ball in 1862, drawn by Salisbury prisoner Otto Boetticher|