Immortal Six Hundred

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Monument to the Confederate "Immortal Six Hundred" at Fort Pulaski National Monument in Savannah, Georgia

In June of 1864, the Confederate Army imprisoned five generals and forty-five Union Army officers as human shields against federal artillery in the city of Charleston, South Carolina, in an attempt to stop Union artillery from firing upon the city.[1] In retaliation, United States Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton ordered fifty captured Confederate officers, of similar ranks, to be taken to Morris Island, South Carolina, at the entrance to Charleston Harbor. The Confederates were only landed on Morris Island late in July of that year.

The premise of the Confederate demand started with the allegation that Charleston should not be shelled. The correspondence between Major-General John Foster, commanding the Federal Department of the South, and Major-General Samuel Jones, commanding Confederate Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, indicates the Confederates accepted the military nature of Charleston as a target. Soon the correspondence turned to an exchange of these high ranking prisoners. [2]

Instructions from the War Department reached Foster in late July, and he coordinated an exchange of the fifty prisoners on July 29. Exchange of the fifty officers actually took place on August 4, 1864.[3] However, at that time Jones brought 600 prisoners to Charleston, in part to press for a larger prisoner exchange.

These men became known in the South as the Immortal Six Hundred.

At one point General Foster planned an exchange of the six hundred, but it was stopped by General Grant who had previously terminated all prisoner of war exchanges due to the history of Confederate mistreatment of captured US colored troops and wrote, "In no circumstances will he be allowed to make exchanges of prisoners of war ."[4]

Three of the six hundred died from subsistence on starvation rations issued as retaliation for the conditions found by the Union at the Confederate prisons in Andersonville, Georgia, and Salisbury, North Carolina.[5]

Upon an outbreak of yellow fever in Charleston, the Union officers were removed from the city limits. In response the Union Army transferred the Immortal Six Hundred to Fort Pulaski outside of Savannah.[6]

There they were crowded into the fort’s cold, damp casemates. For 42 days, a "retaliation ration" of ten ounces of moldy cornmeal and half a pint of soured onion pickles was the only food issued to the prisoners. The starving men were reduced to supplementing their rations with the occasional rat or stray cat. Thirteen men died there of diseases such as dysentery and scurvy.

At Fort Pulaski, the prisoners organized "The Relief Association of Fort Pulaski for Aid and Relief of the Sick and Less Fortunate Prisoners" on December 13, 1864. Col. Abram Fulkerson of the 63rd Tennessee Infantry Regiment was elected president. Out of their sparse funds, the prisoners collected and expended eleven dollars, according to a report filed by Fulkerson on December 28, 1864.

Five later died at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. The remaining prisoners were returned to Fort Delaware on March 12, 1865, where another twenty-five died.[5]

A notable escape effort was led by Captain Henry Dickinson of the 2nd Virginia Cavalry. On the prisoner's journey to Fort Delaware, Dickinson organized a group of thirteen officers, including Colonel Paul F. DeGournay of the 12th Battalion, Louisiana Artillery[7] and Colonel George Woolfolk, to try to escape from the gunboat. However, the effort failed when the captain of the ship noticed one of the 13 men was missing, leading the prisoners to the brig below the deck of the ship.[8]

The prisoners became known throughout the South for their refusal to take the Oath of Allegiance under adverse circumstances.[5] Southerners have long lauded their refusal as honorable and principled.

References[edit]

Notes
  1. ^ Historynet: Immortal 600
  2. ^ Correspondence between Foster and Jones. Source: Official Records, Ser I, Vol.XXXV, Pt.2, 132, 134, 143, and 174-5.
  3. ^ Correspondence between Foster and Jones. Source: Official Records, Ser I, Vol.XXXV, Pt.2, 198.
  4. ^ General Grant to Secretary of War Stanton, regarding General Foster's planned exchange of the 600 Confederate officers for 600 Yankee prisoners of war. Source: Official Records, Ser I, Vol.XXXV, Pt.2, 254.
  5. ^ a b c "Fort Pulaski National Monument: Immortal 600 Living History Event". National Park Service. 2007-02-17. Retrieved 2009-04-20. 
  6. ^ "Fort Pulaski National Monument". National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-07-16. 
  7. ^ "Foreigners in the Confederacy" - Ella Lonn. 2002. UNC Press Books.
  8. ^ "Immortal Captives: The Story of 600 Confederate Officers and the United States Prisoner of War Policy" - Mauriel Joslyn. 2008. Pelican Publishing.
Sources
  • Confederate Veteran Magazine, July 1909, Page 68
  • Murray, Major John Ogden (1911). The immortal six hundred. Roanoke, VA: The Stone Printing and Manufacturing Company. 
  • Joslyn, Mauriel Phillips. Immortal Captives: The Story of 600 Confederate Officers and the U.S. Prisoner of War Policy. White Mane Publishing, 1996.


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