Saturday, February 27, 2010

Rochester's 54th Regiment in Elmira, NY POW Camp

The following is extracted from "The Elmira prison camp: a history of the military prison at Elmira, N.Y," by Clayton Wood Holmes. It is the first instance in Holmes' history of the camp that he mentions the 54th Regiment from Rochester. The 54th left Rochester toward the end of July 1864 and would be there until November of that year as guards.

THE second month of the prison camp's existence opens with a list of about 4500 prisoners, enough to comfortably fill the barracks. During the month 5195 prisoners arrive and the prison is congested. The entire camp not occupied with buildings is covered with tents. The prisoners poured in so rapidly that it was utterly impossible to keep pace with the rapidly increasing demands made in every direction. While hospital buildings were being rushed as fast as possible, the enfeebled prisoners became sick so fast that adequate care could not be given, much as every one desired to do it. A calm and reasonable consideration of the facts gives the best answer to the unreasonable charges made on all sides, by the South, that the effort was not made to properly care for the prisoners.

The following official communication explains conditions at the beginning of August:

Headquarters Draft Rendezvous,

Elmiraa, N. Y., Aug. 3, 1864. Brig.-Gen. L. Thomas,

Adj.-Gen. U. S. A., Washington, D. C. General : Since my last report I have the honor to state that 5000 prisoners of war have arrived at this depot and are quartered in barracks and tents at Barracks No. 3. All recruits, substitutes, and drafted men have been transferred to Barracks No. 1 excepting deserters, who are confined in the guard-house. The latter will be transferred as soon as the guard-house is completed at Barracks No. 1. The 54th Regiment N. Y. Militia, numbering about 350, arrived here on the 27th of July to serve as guard over prisoners of war. This regiment, with the six companies of the 16th V. R. C. [from Allegany Co., NY], furnish about 700 men for guard duty at the prisoners' camp. At Barracks No. 1 there are 200 colored drafted men and substitutes, organized into two companies, armed and equipped, doing guard duty there. Thirty of these are detailed daily as a patrol guard inside the enclosure at prisoners' camp. I have just received notice from Major-General Dix that two more regiments of militia from New York City will be ordered here for duty, and it is probable that they will arrive here to-night or to-morrow.

Owing to the number of troops to arrive here suddenly it became necessary to direct the quartermaster to lease some ground next to the prisoners' camp for an encampment, which I respectfully request may be approved. The new hospital is completed and occupied. The general condition of the post is excellent.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
S. Eastman,

Lt.-Col. U. S. A., Commanding Post.

The continued arrival of prisoners swelled the number so greatly that Colonel Eastman began to get nervous because the guard was so small. He made a telegraphic appeal for reinforcements. Two batteries of artillery, A and B of the 1st Battalion, Light Artillery, N. Y. N. G., arrived on August 3d from Rochester, 66 men and four guns. The 77th and 98th regiments State Militia also arrived. Plate No. 12 shows the artillery camp on the right, and the 54th N. Y. Militia on left. This camp was on the south side of Water Street, west of the enclosure. On the 16th of August, the force guarding prisoners consisted of the 28th [Brooklyn], 54th [Rochester], 56th [Brooklyn], 58th [Livingston County], 77th [New York City], 98th [Erie County], 99th [New York City], and 102d [New York City]regiments of N. Y. Militia, Batteries A and B, 1st Battalion N. Y. Light Artillery [Rochester's Union Grays], and six companies of the 16th V. R. C.

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