Salisbury Prison "A Desperate Revolt" November 2, 1861 - April 1865
For the first two years of its existence, the compound for Union prisoners at Salisbury, NC, was one of the best in the COnfederacy. During its last year, however, it rivaled the camp at Andersonville, GA, for being the most deadly of the SOuthern prisons. The camp offered adequate quarters and reasonable surroundings for 2,000 prisoners, but in October 1864 the population of the camp exceeded 10,000 ragged and starving Union soldiers. Rebel guard H.C. Sharp of the 68th North Carolina reported that during this time 50 to 60 prisoners were dying every day of malnutrition and disease caused by the unsanitary conditions and tainted water.
In November 1864, the desperate prisoners undertook a reckless revolt to try to take over the prison and escape. Believing that the 68th North Carolina had been transferred to the war front and that the remaining inefficient guards were of little threat, the prisoners overpowered the five to eight guards stationed inside the compound and used the captured weapons to fire on the guards posted on the platform around the outside of the stockade. The 68th Regiment was indeed being transferred, but they were still at the train depot only 300 yards away from the prison. Upon hearing the firing, the men of the regiment came running back to the compound. Two small cannon stationed at two corners of the prison yard with canister while other soldiers climbed onto the platform and fired down into the crowd with their rifles.
The concentrated fire quickly convinced the prisoners of the futility of the revolt. They scrambled into their holes or lay flat on the ground and surrendered. Six or eight of the guards were killed or wounded, as were 50 to 75 of the prisoners. The prison commandant had several of the prisoners hung up by their thumbs, but they refused to reveal the identities of the ringleaders of the revolt.
Fascinating Fact: Sharp reported that he discovered several prisoners crawling down a sewage ditch outside the compound one rainy night. Rather than turn them in, he allowed the prisoners to sneak back into the prison the same way they had escaped. Sharp said the men were easily recognizable the next day from the nastiness of their clothes, fouled while crawling through the sewage ditch.
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