Many Civil War prisons were infamous. There were 65 altogether, 32 in the North and 33 in the South. Famous prisons included Libby Prison (Richmond, VA), Andersonville, (GA) and Elmira (NY). Over 57,000 POWs died in confinement during the Civil War, mostly from the harsh conditions and from disease.
Perhaps the most unlikely Civil War prison was at Alcatraz Island in the harbor in San Francisco. Alcatraz Island, which was completed in 1860, originally also contained five military batteries. By June 1863 another three batteries were added to the ring around the fortification, with armaments totaling 101 guns and 19 flank howitzers.
Alcatraz, much more noted in recent times for its prison population, received its first Civil War era prisoners on August 27, 1861. Although exact figures were not kept, it is believed the prison held an average of 15 military prisoners in each of the first two years of the war. By 1864, that number had only reached 24. It is possible that an additional number of civilians with southern sympathies were also held.
The capture of the crew and passenger (a total of 24 men) aboard the schooner J. M. Chapman were also sent to Alcatraz following their capture on March 15, 1863. It is believed the ship was on a journey to become a privateer for the Confederacy.
By early 1865, military prisoners at Alcatraz were used to work at the fort and contributed to the building of the post-war batteries at the prison that eventually became known as “The Rock”.
Today the island is a National Park and part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It is accessible from San Francisco Pier 33 via a private charter boat company Alcatraz Cruises LLC.
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