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In every other Civil War prison, men died by the score – why not in this one?

Castle Morgan, Cahaba, Alabama, 1863-65. Drawn from memory by Jesse Hawes for Cahaba, A Story of Captive Boys in Blue. New York: Burr Printing House, 1888. Via Wikimedia Commons

Castle Morgan, Cahaba, Alabama, 1863-65. Drawn from memory by Jesse Hawes for Cahaba, A Story of Captive Boys in Blue. New York: Burr Printing House, 1888. Via Wikimedia Commons

 

Yankee soldiers who became prisoners of the Confederate army endured hellish conditions during the American Civil War. At the infamous Andersonville Prison nearly 14,000 died.

Jails, prisons and forts were quickly bulging with prisoners. Then came barracks and tents and finally open stockades. Last to be pressed into service as prisons were warehouses and other large buildings.

One of those was Cahaba, a cotton warehouse near the Alabama town of the same name. It had only a partial roof, one fireplace, a four-seat outhouse and water polluted by sewer runoff. Though initially intended to house 500 prisoners, at its peak it held 3,000. Sanitation and food were limited.

In other camps death rates hovered around 33 percent. What made Cahaba different was the compassion of one of the two commanding officers. Rev. Dr. A.M. Henderson was a Methodist minister who worked tirelessly to provide for his charges. He not only encouraged the generosity of townsfolk, he also sent sick and injured prisoners to the local hospital.

As a result, of the thousands of prisoners in Cahaba between 1862 and 1865, all but 147 survived. That is a tribute to one special man who respected those in his care.

We all have it within us to be that person, for one of our fellow beings or for thousands.

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