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Union prisoners playing baseball at Salisbury

[Source: Atlas Editions; Civil War Cards]

When Gov. Henry T. Clark of North Carolina shopped for a new prison camp, the abandoned cotton factory in downtown Salisbury seemed like a good deal. It was on a rail line, facilitating prisoner movement, and the brick factory and accompanying wooden boarding houses were deemed sufficient for the anticipated 2,000 inmates. Wells provided fresh water, and the local countryside was rich in produce, making provisioning easy.

Most important, the price was right. The factory's owner wanted only $15,000 for the 11 acre complex, which included $500 worth of machinery. He was also willing to accept payment in Confederate bonds. And while $2,000 was needed for iron bars and other security measures, Clark was assured that the prison could be resold after the war for $30,000 to $50,000, bringing a tidy profit. So on November 2, 1861, the Confederate government purchased the complex.

Surrounded by a simple board fence, Salisbury Prison promised to be a comfortable detention center for deserters, spies, and Southern citizens suspected of disloyalty. Mid December 1861 brought the first Union prisoners, and by March 1862 Salisbury housed a total of 1,500 prisoners. Conditions were good until late 1863. Food and room were plentiful, and the prisoners even formed baseball teams. Only one death was reported.

As the Union army advanced, more and more Northern prisoners were transferred to Salisbury from occupied territories. The prison's capacity of 2,000 was reached early in 1864. By October 1864, over 10,000 men were crowded into tents, mud huts, and even holes in the ground, as the prison buildings were increasingly used as hospitals. The Confederate government couldn't afford the bills. Salisbury's acreage became a quagmire, with no stream running through the camp to carry away waste, sanitation was a nightmare, and the wells became fouled.

For more information please visit the Salisbury Confederate Prison Association, Inc.