Elmira Prison Camp
Elmira, NY
Known by Confederate Prisoners as "Helmira"  

Photos/text courtesy of Scott Payne, NY
For any use of these photos contact

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More Elmira Prison related courtesy of Scott Payne

1. Elmira Civil War Prison
2. Elmira Prison - Wikipedia

3. Elmira Prison (civilwarhome.com)
4. New York History Review - Elmira Prison Camp book
5. The Elmira Prison Camp Online Library
6. Union Civil War Prison at Elmira, NY
7. Elmira Prison Camp OnLine Library

Woodlawn Nat. Cem.

Chemung Valley History Museum

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Elmira barracks were built at the beginning of the war as a general recruiting depot, but in July, 1864, Division No. 3, of the barracks, called after wards Camp Chemung, was converted into a prison camp. Camp Chemung was forever to be known by the Confederate prisoners who were held there as simply "Helmira".  Camp Chemung was situated on the Chemung River bank a mile and a quarter west of the town. The site was believed to be healthy; it was level, and having a sandy soil resting on a layer of coarse gravel a few feet below the surface, affording good underground drainage. Good water was obtained by two wells , and any deficiency was supplied from the river. Latrines and baths were not at first provided. Drainage was by means of pits dug to the porous subsoil. The sinks (latrines) were covered pits, which were filled up when necessary.

The prison camp was there for only 369 days, (July 6, 1864- July 11, 1865), yet it had the highest death rate, per capita, of any prison camp, north or south, 24 percent. 12,123 Confederate prisoners of war were guests at the infamous camp. Unfortunately 3,000 of these POW's never made it out alive. The prison was located between the Chemung River and a one-acre lagoon of water, called Foster's Pond. The pond was a backwash from the river and served as a latrine as well as a garbage dump. Prison buildings were located on the higher northern bank of Foster's Pond. The lower southern level, known to flood easily, later became a hospital area for hundreds of smallpox and diarrhea victims.

The prison was conceived on May 15,1864, when Adjutant General E. D. Townsend reported several empty barracks could be used to house a large number of "Rebels" recently captured. Col William Hoffman, Commissary General of Prisoners wrote to the first commandant of the prison, Lt. Col. Seth Eastman on May 19th,1864 that he had heard the site would hold 10,000 prisoners. Eastman replied on May 23rd that the barracks could easily hold 4,000, with plenty of room for an additional 1,000. Hoffman, on June 22 tells Eastman, "to make the area, being enclosed by a fence, enough to accommodate, in barracks and tents, 10,000 prisoners." By the end of July  4,424 prisoners were packed into the compound with another 3,000 en-route. The total number leaped to 9,600 by mid-August.

Citizens and tourists to Elmira will find the city a beautiful one, full of many family-minded activities. Most of the cities citizens however are completely unaware of the camp and the Confederate prisoners that were held there 145 years ago. The camp is all gone now, except for a flagpole that stands as a lone reminder to the most important time in our nations history, the American Civil War.

Photos (Modern)
Camp Chemungs Western Boundary
Chemung River
Col. Stephen Moore's Living Quarters
Dead House
Elmira Prison Interpretive Marker
Erie Depot
Escape Tunnel  2
Escapees After War
Foster House
Foster's Pond  2
Guard House  2
Hospital Barracks
Hospital Tents
Main Gate
Mess Tents
Northeast Corner of Stockade
Northwest Corner of Stockade  2
Officers' Quarters  2  3
Original Barracks
Original Flagpole (Now)  2
Original Flagpole Site  2
Police Sergeants Quarters
Prisoner Barracks
Sinks (latrines)
Small Pox Hospital
Tunnel Outlet
Photos (Wartime)    
Barry Benson
Col. Benjamin Tracy
Col. Stephen Moore
Main Entrance
Major Eugene F. Sanger, Chief Surgeon
Northeast Corner of Stockade
Officers' Mess
Officers' Quarters  2
Prisoner Barracks
Photos (Tunnel Escape Survivors)    
Barry Benson
Hickory Jackson
Wash B Traweek
William H. Templin
Cecrops Malone
John Purifoy
J. P. Putegnat

(April 2009) Enlarge Prisoners arrived at the Erie Depot from Point Lookout, Maryland. The depot was about one mile from the prison camp

(April 2009) Enlarge The tracks were at ground level at the time of the Civil War. They were elevated in the 1930's as part of President Roosevelt's economic stimulus plan




(April 2009) Prisoners were pleasantly surprised when sympathetic citizens, at many stops, distributed food and clothing to them. Yet, wrote one prisoner, "these agreeable incidents were occasionally diversified by the insults of some sleek non-combatants...if he could only lay hands on us." The first group reached the prison at 6:00 a.m. on July 6th and numbered 399 men, one soldier escaped en route

(April 2009) Enlarge The original wooden station is enclosed within the brick structure. The new structure was added in 1867 to accommodate the rapid growth in Elmira


(April 2009) Enlarge This New York State marker is along West Water Street. The main gate was located to the right of the marker. The prisoners would have had to march down many dusty streets to get from the Erie Depot to the prison camp.
"As we marched through the streets of Elmira," Sgt. Berry Benson of McGowan's South Carolina Brigade recollected many years later, " two by two, ragged, dirty faces pinched with hunger, the people came out on the sidewalks to see Lee's soldiers going to prison. Had I seen any of the men, I know I would have hated them, but I had eyes only for the pretty girls."


(April 2009) Close-up of marker in previous photo. Marker placed in 2007

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