Belle's Island War Prison

Written Accounts
Other Sites

Back • Next


From the Charleston Mercury, August 7, 1862

BELLE'S ISLAND WAR PRISON. - The Richmond Examiner, of Monday, says: Belle Island, in the James river, heretofore little known and without any historic interest, is destined to figure hereafter more conspicuously as the depot for the confinement of the several thousand Yankee prisoners taken in the late battles before Richmond, and confined for some time afterwards in the Libby and other prisons of the city, but within the last four weeks removed to the island. The island is about one mile in length and a quarter of a mile in breadth, with two branches of the river that forms, clasping the shores on either side.

On a level portion near the landing is located the camp of the prisoners, containing between 400 and 500 tents, closely huddled together, with a broad avenue running through the centre, which has been named Broadway, after the famous New York thoroughfare. This Yankee settlement now numbers upwards of 4500 inhabitants, and in the evening when their promenade commences, Broadway on Belle Island rivals Broadway in New York, certainly in the grotesqueness of costume.

The encampment of the guard is located on a hill overlooking the Yankee encampment. The guard numbers about three hundred men, including Daylight artillery battery, Captain Norris Montgomery, who superintends the whole police arrangement. Captain Montgomery and his officers have their headquarters in a school house in the hollow near the Yankee settlement. A railing surrounds the camp, and beyond its confines none of the prisoners are allowed to intrude except under guard. A bathing spot has been selected under the trees in the river, and the prisoners are conducted out in squads of ten, and enjoy a bath of a few minutes, which they seem to enjoy very much. The whole day is occupied in this manner until the whole four thousand odd hundreds have made their ablutions. The health of the prisoners has improved to a remarkable degree under the influence of water and fresh air of the island.

Only fifteen deaths have occurred since the island was occupied. Inside of the camp enclosure of the Yankees they are allowed to exercise any form of municipal government they please. Many of them display the usual amount of Yankee ingenuity in the arrangement of their domestic quarters. Wells have been sunk in various parts of the camp, from whence excellent water is obtained.

But while the people exercise their ingenuity and skill, we are sorry to state that they are practising among themselves the vices which distinguished them while enjoying the opportunities at large in Virginia. They are the most inveterate thieves, and on every opportunity depredate upon one another. For one to take off his shoes, or a piece of his garment, and fall to sleep, is to invite a theft from his comrade, and every day complaints are made to the commanding officer of the guard of such depredators. Numbers have lost their shoes and pieces of their clothing, and go about barefooted, or in their stocking feet, and half naked.

One of their own sutlers, captured with the prisoners, has established a sutlership, and the prisoners make purchases from him of such articles as are not furnished in the daily rations. They loudly complain of his extortion, however, and threaten to have him sent to the Rip Raps when they get back. Their funds are running short, too, and many are compelled to part with whatever they have saleable about them.

They are all looking hopefully forward to an exchange, and are very persistent in their inquiries concerning the prospect. A few nights since five of the prisoners attempted to escape by swimming the river. One of them succeeded in getting nearly across, but all were captured and are now kept under guard.

Page last updated on 02/12/2008