Enemy Combatants: Black Soldiers in Confederate Prisons

- Ward, Tom^
During the Civil War, over 180,000 black men served as soldiers in the U.S. Army. However, the Confederate government officially refused to acknowledge any black men as soldiers, declaring them instead to be “slaves in rebellion,” and subject to either re-enslavement or execution if caught fighting with the U.S. Army. While the story of massacres of black soldiers–including those at Ft. Pillow, Poison Spring, and Petersburg—have been well-documented, less is known about the hundreds of captured black soldiers who were indeed detained at prisoner-of-war camps in the South, despite the fact that they were not officially granted prisoner-of-war status by the Confederate government. Hundreds of black soldiers, including many from Alabama units of the United States Colored Troops, were detained in Confederate prison camps. While many of these troops ended up in camps along with white soldiers, hundreds were housed in an old cotton warehouse in Mobile, the largest all-black prisoner-of-war camp in the entire Confederacy. Through the use of U.S. Army Pension Records, these solders, many of whom could not read or write, are able to tell much of their own story.

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