Cahaba Prison

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Cahaba Prison
Castle Morgan
Cahaba, Alabama, U.S.A.
Castle Morgan.jpg
"Castle Morgan, Cahaba, Alabama, 1863–65. Drawn from memory by the author." From Jesse Hawes' Cahaba, A Story of Captive Boys in Blue.
Type Confederate Prison Camp
Site history
Built 1863
In use 1863–1865
Battles/wars American Civil War

Cahaba Prison, also known as Castle Morgan, was a prisoner of war camp in Alabama where the Confederacy held captive Union soldiers during the American Civil War. The prison was located in the small Alabama town of Cahaba, at the confluence of the Alabama and Cahaba Rivers, not far from Selma.[1]


The Cahaba Prison was opened as such in June 1863.[2] The commanding officer was Captain H. A. M. Henderson, a Methodist minister.[3] The prison took advantage of an existing structure, built in 1860 as a brick cotton warehouse on Arch Street, above the banks of the Alabama River.[1] This structure covered approximately 15,000 square feet (1,400 m2) and was surrounded by a larger wooden stockade when converted into a prison.[1] It was intended for only approximately 500 prisoners, but its population had grown to 660 by August 1864. When Union General Ulysses S. Grant suspended the practice of prisoner exchange with the Confederacy the numbers began to soar. By October 1864 the prison’s numbers had swelled to 2,151, they had grown to over 3,000 by March 1865.[1]

Of the two men in charge Captain Howard A. M. Henderson was "remembered with kindly wishes…It was often in the power of Henderson to extend kindnesses and courtesies to prisoners, and we are glad to note that the opportunity was not infrequently embraced." But in describing Lieutenant-Col. Samuel Jones, "we find one whose record was a sickening blotch upon humanity...The relations between Jones and Henderson were never cordial, and at times were quite unfriendly. It was urged by one or two of the guards that Jones, when not drunk, was less brutal then he would ordinarily seem; but unfortunately for the poor wretches whose very lives depended on his moods, he was never seen by us except when intoxicated."[4]

Jacob Rush of the 3rd Ohio Cavalry enlisted at age 15 having lied about his age. He was captured as a spy, met with General Nathan Bedford Forrest and sent to Cahaba Prison, arriving on October 13, 1864. While there he met Captain Hanchette and helped organize an escape attempt. They were successful in capturing the guards, but the demoralized condition of the prisoners made the necessary show of strength and courage impossible. The attempt failed, reinforcements came from the town and the prisoners were charged with conspiracy. Captain Hanchette refused to give up the names of the men involved and none of the other prisoners did either. They were kept four days without rations. Jacob Rush and Jesse Hawes M. D. provided first-hand accounts of the prison, the conditions, and the escape attempt. Captain Hanchette was to be exchanged for a Confederate general confined at Vicksburg. Rush reported that Colonel Jones, who both hated and feared his victim, selected two villainous men to act as his guard, and gave them instructions to find some excuse for shooting him while going from Cahaba to Selma. "Captain Hanchette was taken forth from the dark dungeon, his strong frame so reduced that he was scarcely able, even under the stimulus of hope, to stand, placed in the custody of the assassins, and started toward Selma. He was shot down in cold blood before he was a mile from town, a fate perfectly in accord with a confinement rarely paralleled in the bounds of any civilized country in the nineteenth century.[5]

The regional district commander, Lt. Col. Samuel Jones, negotiated an exchange of Union prisoners from Cahaba for captured Confederates, with the prison being evacuated in March 1865. The actual exchange would take place at Vicksburg, Mississippi in April 1865, after a long and arduous journey by the prisoners.


R. H. Whitfield, the prison surgeon, reported unhygienic conditions at the camp, citing the lack of a sanitary water supply.[2] The warehouse building had one fireplace and only 432 bunk spaces. Despite all of this, the death rate was only about 2%, the lowest rate of any Civil War prison camp. Most Confederate camps averaged 15.5% and Union camps over 12%.[2] Federal and Confederate records indicate that between 142 and 147 men died at Cahaba Prison.[2] The most outstanding health problem were constant outbreaks of flea infestations. Park historians believe the low death rate was mainly due to the humane treatment of the prisoners based on Capt. Henderson's Methodist beliefs.[6] The irony of this high survival rate is that many of the prisoners, once free, later perished in the subsequent Sultana disaster.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Bryant, William O. Cahaba Prison and the Sultana Disaster. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1990. ISBN 0-8173-0468-1
  2. ^ a b c d "Cahaba Federal Prison". "Old Cahawba: A Cahawba Advisory Committee Project". Retrieved 2008-01-07. 
  3. ^ "Cahaba Civil War Prison". " Civil War Prison Camps". Retrieved 2008-01-07. 
  4. ^ Cahaba – A Story of Captive Boys in Blue by Jesse Hawes, M. D., 1888
  5. ^ Kelleys Island 1862-1866-The Civil War, the Island Soldiers and the Island Queen, by Leslie Korenko, 2009
  6. ^ Tour guide, Old Cahawba Archaeological Park

External links[edit]


  • Hawes, Jesse. (1888) Cahaba: A Story of Captive Boys in Blue, 1888.
  • Reed, Charles B. (1925) The Curse of Cahawba.
  • Hasseltine, William Best. (1930) Civil War Prisons: A Study in War Psychology.

Coordinates: 32°18′59″N 87°05′46″W / 32.31637°N 87.09622°W / 32.31637; -87.09622