Point Lookout Banner


Hammond Hospital and depot for prisoners of war (foreground) and two fenced areas of sand where prisoners were held (background, upper right)

[Source: Atlas Editions; Civil War Cards]

Point Lookout, Md., was the largest and one of the worst Northern prisoner-of-war camps. It was established August 1, 1863, on the barren peninsula where the Potomac River flows into the Chesapeake Bay. The prison consisted of "two enclosures of flat sand, one about thirty and the other about ten acres, each surrounded by a fence fifteen feet high.

All inmates were enlisted men, and they lived in overcrowded tents, with no barracks to protect them from heat and coastal storms. Water was scarce and polluted and there was never enough food or firewood; both were strictly rationed. Rats were a major source of protein for some inmates, and catching them became a favorite sport in the camp.

There was much animosity between the prisoners and the guards, who were mostly black troops. One Rebel who had managed to purchase his freedom from the prison reported that "murder was not only not scrupled at, but opportunities sought for its commission by the guards, who are known to have been offered by the officer of the day as much as $10 and $15 apiece for every prisoner they could shoot in the discharge of their duty."