1864: John McGill to Mrs. Buckley

This letter was written by John McGill of Co I, 197th Pennsylvania Infantry (100 days, 1864) who entered the service in July 1864 and mustered out on 11 November 1863. The regiment was recruited in Philadelphia, Delaware and Lancaster counties and was sometimes called the 3rd Coal Exchange Regiment, In September and October 1864 they served as prison guards at Rock Island, Illinois.

John was from Media, Delaware county, Pennsylvania, like many others in his company.

Rock Island Prison


Rock Island, Illinois
September 4, 1864

Friend Mrs. Buckley,

I now have an opportunity of writing to you to let you know that I am well hoping you [are] the same. I like soldiering very well for what I have seen of it. Capt. [Ralph Buckley] is well at present and [1st Sergt.] Edwin Bowden also.

There is 1478 Rebs buried here this last year 1 and about 10,000 left in the Bullpen where we guard every day. They give us no trouble in get[ting] out.

My respects to all enquiring friends. Yourself also. No more at present.

Yours respectfully, — J. McGill

Rock Island Prisoners

1 During the summer of 1863, prison camps in the North were overflowing with Confederate soldiers captured in battle.  As a result, Union troops began construction of a new prison camp on an island in the Mississippi River then known as Rock Island, now called Arsenal Island.  The camp opened in December 1863 with the arrival of the first prisoners captured at the Battle of Lookout Mountain.  The Rock Island Prison Camp was designed to hold more than 10,000 inmates at any one time, and over the final 18 months of the war, more than 12,000 Confederate prisoners passed through its gates. The deplorable conditions at the camp led some to call it the “Andersonville of the North,” a reference to the infamous prison in Georgia.  Disease, including smallpox and pneumonia, ran rampant through the prison claiming many lives, while others died from exposure to the elements and the unsanitary conditions of the camp.  During the first four months alone, more than 950 Confederate soldiers died.  Initially, the dead were buried in a plot located 400 yards south of the prison, but on advice from the prison surgeon, a new cemetery, one that would become Rock Island Confederate Cemetery, was established in 1864, located 1,000 yards southeast of the prison.  In March 1864, the remains of 671 Confederate dead were reinterred in the new burial grounds.  In all, approximately 1,950 Confederate prisoners were buried in the cemetery, with the last burial occurring on July 11, 1865.  All structures related to the prison were transferred to the Rock Island Arsenal and were subsequently demolished, leaving the Confederate Cemetery as the camp’s only remaining feature. [NPS].

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