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Subject: [GAPIERCE] Ga-Pierce Co. History (Blackshear's Con)
Date: Mon, 8 Mar 2004 10:54:31 -0500
Pierce County GaArchives History .....Blackshear's Confederate Prison
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Bob Hurst March 8, 2004, 10:54 am
By Robert Latimer Hurst
John McElroy had reasons to write what he did about Blackshear and Pierce
County. He certainly would have been rejected for any chamber of commerce
membership with his attitude. But most who read this story might find
themselves agreeing with this young man as he surveyed the world around him in
"Pierce County ... is one of the poorest counties of a poor section of a very
poor state." As a member of Company L, 16th Illinois Cavalry, he would view
this War Between the States as a firsthand observer. And he would record his
observations in a book entitled Andersonville.
Sergeant McElroy was confined in the Confederated-operated prison camp in
Pierce County for a short time during November, 1864. Prison life was not
anything new to him; he had also served time in Millen and the infamous
The Pierce County confinement was no different from any other stockades, except
for the pitifully poor condition of the people and the soil, reported this
Union soldier. Couldn't this statement have been true, considering the time and
circumstance? War, though no combative action had happened here,had sapped
everything out of the Southeast.
Confusion ran through the South during these latter days of the Confederacy,
where hastily built prisons stood in Millen, Blackshear and Andersonville
hopefully away from Sherman's March to the Sea. Southern leadership had
disappeared. Regardless of rebel stubbornness, the cause was lost.
Though temporary fortifications, those at Millen, Blackshear and Andersonville
had gained their reputations. Blackshear's "branch" had been constructed during
the closing days of the war. Considered one of 34 principle confines, the jail,
located on the Alma Road (State Route 203) just beyond the present city limits,
was serviced by many of the other South Georgia barracks because Blackshear was
a greater distance from Sherman's forces at the beginning of the arsonist's
journey from Atlanta to Savannah and the sea.
Records from the Civil War chronicle Andersonville, Pierce County Historian
Dean Broome and the Blackshear Times "Historical Edition (November 26, 1959)
give the reader a glimpse of what this Confederate prison was like. Evidently
built on a similar order as Andersonville, it, however, was much smaller. The
Blackshear camp must have consisted of pine timbers sharpened to a point and
bound together to serve as the wall. Rude wooden cabins were constructed for
the headquarters and barracks.
McElroy pointed out that, after leaving the railroad cars on which the men
traveled from Savannah to Pierce County, they settled in their "shanties by the
side of a considerable stream" (the Alabaha or Satilla Rivers)in the pine
woods. Huts, or lean-to's, were hustled together, and the few supplies that the
men possessed were thrown into the makeshift quarters. A guard was placed
around the Yankees' compound, and a number of pieces of artillery were mounted
for stricter command.
Andersonville Prison Camp, near Americus and now the site of a Federal Park, is
somewhat representative of all the camps in Georgia during this civil
rebellion. It might be added that many Northern areas of confinement were just
as notorious as the wiregrass-located stockade commanded by Captain Henry Wirz.
This comparative supposition is made because there are very few records on the
Blackshear compound available.
Operating from February, 1864, to May, 1865, Andersonville was erected because
the site was far behind the front lines and because the Federal authorities had
stopped the prisoner exchange program. The increased numbers had been confined
in Richmond, Virginia; however, this concentration of pro-Unionists proposed a
danger to Confederacy. The food supply had also become critical because of this
In 1863, Captain W. S. Winder had selected Andersonville as the site for a
prison, but he did not have time to complete the structure before the POW's
began arriving. It was too late for any change. Added to this problem, the
prison authorities found the drainage poor and the water supply inadequate;
uncooked food, disease and fatigue also created chaotic conditions.
Within six months, 42,686 cases of ill and wounded prisoners received treatment
from an poorly trained medical staff and ill-equipped hospital. Nearly 13,000
men died. During the movement of men, great numbers died enroute. The writer, a
prisoner himself, was one among the first group to be sent to Blackshear:
"We had another lot of dead, accumulated since we left Savannah," recorded
McElroy. These were unloaded in Pierce County; the burial record is not clear,
but some do believe that a massive burial plot might be located in the
Conditions became increasingly worse in the South when Secretary of War Edwin
Stanton began using the prison situation as propaganda. Union encampments, it
is said, retaliated with injuries to Confederate prisoners. After the war,
Commandant Wirz was executed for his supposed cruelty to Federal prisoners. One
somehow wonders if this man was hung unjustly as a victim of this wartime
In the meantime, Colonel H. Forno, in charge of the Blackshear confine, had
written to headquarters for advice. His letter stresses the confused days in
Blackshear. His first problem was finding the commanding general's
headquarters. Three prison trains had broken down between Blackshear and
Savannah. Unionists were roaming all over the place. And he was running out of
It is possible McElroy was a passenger on one of these trains: "Apparently
there had been no oil on the Atlantic and Gulf (Railroad) since the beginning
of the war, and the screeches of the dry axles revolving in the worn-out boxes
were agonizing. Something would break on the cars or blow-out on the engine
every few miles, necessitating a long stop for repairs."
Colonel Forno realized that he could not account for his prisoners. Some he
thought had been sent to the Florence, South Carolina, stockade; others had
been paroled and had made their way into Florida to board any vessel going
north. There were 1,042 incarcerated in Blackshear that Colonel Forno knew had
to be sent to Savannah, but the trains had been assigned to Thomasville. Now,
orders came for the men to go to Thomasville. The confused executive officer
placed 400 soldiers, with guards, on the first train; then another train
dispatched 1,200 prisoners and sentries.
With 2,500 Unionists and the Second Regiment of the Georgia Reserves awaiting
his command, he debated whether or not he should report to the general. Or
should he just go to Thomasville and aid in building a prison there? No one
really knows what the final decision of this colonel was. He might still be
waiting for those orders from his commanding officer.
Today, a marker, placed by the Georgia Historical Commission, is found at the
location: "The camp held more than 5,000 prisoners until the first week of
January, 1865. The prisoners were brought here from camps at Millen and
probably from Andersonville to avoid the possibility of their being liberated
by Sherman's troops who were then moving southward. The camp was at one time
under the command of Colonel H. Forno."
Driving this highway today, one would never imagine that such events took place
here so long ago.
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