Fort Lafayette had served as a U.S. military prison since July 15, 1861, [when] Edward D. Townsend, assistant adjutant general, ordered Major General Nathaniel P. Banks to take prisoners captured by General McClellan in West Virginia. Townsend then advised, “A permanent guard will be ordered to the fort in time to receive the prisoners.” The first POWs arrived July 22. Prior to this, the fort had served as one of the first Northern coastal fortifications to hold Federal political prisoners.
The fort was built on a small rock island lying in the Narrows between the lower end of Staten Island and Long Island, opposite Fort Hamilton. All POWs en route to Fort Lafayette arrived at Fort Hamilton first, where they were searched, had their names recorded, and were placed on a boat for the quarter-mile trip to the offshore island prison. Erected in 1822 and originally named Fort Diamond, Fort Lafayette was an octagonal structure with the four principal sides much larger than the others, making the building appear somewhat round from the outside and square from the inside.
The fort’s walls were 25 to 30 feet high, with batteries commanding a view of the channel in two of its longer and two of its shorter sides. Two tiers of heavy guns were on each of these sides, with lighter barbette guns above them under a temporary wooden roof. The two other principal sides were occupied by two stories of small casemates, ten on each story. The open area within the fort was 120 feet across with a pavement 25 feet wide running around the inside, leaving a patch of ground 70 feet square in the center.
Long before the Civil War this fortress was renamed Fort Lafayette, in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette, the young French general who had aided the American cause in the Revolutionary War. By the second year of the Civil War, however, it would be hatefully referred to by many simply as “that American Bastille”. . .
The prisoners were confined in the fort’s two principal gun batteries and in four casemates of the lower story that had all been converted into prison rooms by bricking up the open entrances. . . .
The enclosures were lighted by five embrasures measuring, about 2Y2 by 2 feet, which were covered with iron gratings. Five large doorways, 7 or 8 feet high, opened upon the enclosure from within the walls but were covered by solid folding doors. . . .
The four casemates were nothing more than vaulted cells measuring 8 feet at the highest point and 24-by-14 feet wide. Each was lighted by two small loopholes in the outer wall and one on an inner wall. Large wooden doors of the casemates were shut and locked at 9:00 Pm. and remained so until daylight. Although these rooms remained dark and damp most of the time, they did have fireplaces, which the batteries lacked. Later, stoves had to be installed in the battery rooms to combat the cold.
Neither location had furniture except for a few beds. . . .
In immediate command over the Fort Lafayette prisoners was Lieutenant Charles 0. Wood, who was described as “brutal” by many of the prisoners. He had been a baggage handler on the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad before the war and had received his commission, it was said, from President Lincoln as a reward for successfully smuggling Lincoln’s baggage through Baltimore prior to his inaugurations
When originally converted to a prison, the fort was believed capable of holding up to fifty POWs. From the very beginning, however, twenty were held in each battery while nine to ten were held in each casemate. Before long there were often thirty-five to a battery and up to thirty in a casemate. . . .
When the prisoners arrived at Fort Lafayette, they were escorted to the office of Lieutenant Wood where, again, they were searched and had their names recorded. All their money was confiscated; they were given a receipt and then shown to their quarters.
Some of the first inmates included those who had done nothing more than express sympathy for the South: members of the Maryland legislature; Baltimore’s police commissioners; James W Ball, a New Jersey Democrat who was later elected to the U.S. Senate; and Francis K. Howard, editor of a Baltimore newspaper and grandson of Francis Scott Key. In addition, all officers who had resigned commissions in the U.S. Army to accept Confederate commands were, if captured, automatically sent there.
Although the privateers transferred from the Tombs were originally kept in shackles and confined both day and night in the lower casemates of the fort, the regular prisoners of war and political prisoners were allowed to exercise in the open area of the compound two times each day-from six to seven in the morning and from five to six in the evening. The exercise usually consisted of individuals simply walking along the pavement around the inside of the fort several times. As the prison became more crowded, these walks were limited to one half hour twice a day and then, finally, eliminated altogether. At dark the prisoners were confined to their rooms and all candles were extinguished at nine. Later, candles were also eliminated and, according to one prisoner’s account, “the night to us now is nearly 15 hours, counting from lock-up time to the opening of the cell in the morning. . . .” [to read more, see: Fort LaFayette Prisoner of War Camp]
This handwritten list may have be the original document prepared by Hillary Cenas, one of the original prisoners, and given to David Reno who was recently discharged from Fort Lafayette. See the following newspaper article appearing in the Daily Constitutionalist (August, GA) and other papers on 13 September 1861:
List of Prisoners at Fort Lafayette
Room No. 1
E. S. Ruggles, 1 Fredericksburg, Va., Arrested July 20, 1861
James E. Murphrey, 2 Portsmouth, Va., Arrested July 31, 1861
John H. Cusick [or Kusick], 2 Woodville, Md., Arrested July 31, 1861
Charles M. Hagland [Hagelin], Baltimore, Md., Arrested July 31, 1861
John W. Davis, 3 Baltimore, Md., Arrested July 31, 1861
George Miles, 4 Richmond, Va., Arrested August 22, 1861
James G[arnett] Guthrie, 4 Petersburg. Va., Arrested August 23, 1861
J. R. Barbour, Lake Providence, La., Arrested August 24, 1861
D. C. Lowber, New Orleans, La., Arrested August 25, 1861
R. F. Grove, New York City, Arrested September 1, 1861
Room No. 2
Charles Howard, 3 Baltimore, Md., Arrested July 31, 1861
William H. Gatchell, 3 Baltimore, Md., Arrested July 31, 1861
Samuel H. Lyon, 2 Baltimore, Md., Arrested July 31, 1861
Richard H. Alvey, 2 Hagerstown, Md., Arrested July 31, 1861
Austin E. Smith, 5 San Francisco, Cal., Arrested August 3, 1861
John Williams, 6 Norfolk, Va., Arrested August 11, 1861
James G. Berrett, Washington D. C., Arrested August 25, 1861
Samuel J. Anderson, N. York City, Arrested August 27, 1861
J. L. Reynolds, Mobile, Ala., Arrested September 1, 1861
Frank E. Williams, Choctaw, Arrested September 1, 1861
Room No. 3
Dr. Edward Johnson, 2 Baltimore, Md., Arrested July 29, 1861
Robert Mure, Charleston, S.C., Arrested August 14, 1861
Charles Kopperal, Carroll County, Miss., Arrested August 18, 1861
J. [ ] Serrill, New Orleans, La., Arrested Aug. 18; Discharged Sept. 6.
Pierce Butler, Philadelphia, Penn., Arrested August 20, 1861
Louis deBibian, Wilmington, N. C., Arrested August 20, 1861
F. H. Fisk, New Orleans, La., Arrested August 25, 1861
W. H. Ward, Norfolk, Va., Arrested August 31, 1861
Capt. J. A deSannel (CSA), Alexandria, Va., Arrested August 31, 1861
J. C. Rohming, New York City, Arrested September 3, 1861
James Chapin, Vicksburg, Miss., Arrested September 5, 1861
Room No. 4
Samuel Eakins, Richmond, Va., Arrested August 26, 1861
David Reno, Columbia, S. C., Arrested August 26; Discharged Sep. 4
Robert Tansill (Capt. U. S. M. C.) Virginia. Arrested August 28, 1861
Thomas S. Wilson, (Lieut. U. S. M. C.) Missouri, Arrested August 28, 1861
H. B. Claiborne (Midshipman USN) N. Orleans, Arrested Aug. 28, 1861
Hillary Cenas (Midshipman USN) N. Orleans, Arrested Aug. 28, 1861
William Patrick, Brooklyn, Arrested August 28, 1861
Ellis B. Schnabel, Penn., Arrested August 29, 1861
U. B. Harrold, Macon, Ga., Arrested August 30, 1861
Richard S. Freeman, Macon, Ga., Arrested August 31, 1861
H. A. Reeves, Greenport, Long Island, Arrested September 4, 1861
Robert Elliot, Freedom, Me., Arrested September 7, 1861
Crew of Privateer Schooner York of Norfolk, Va., taken from Schooner George G. Baker of Galveston, Texas, by U. S. Gunboat Union, August 9, 1861
Crew of Privateer Schooner Dixie taken from Schooner Mary Alice of New York, by U. S. Steam Frigate Wabash, August 3, 1861
John A. Marshall
George O. Gladden
J. P. M. Carlos
1 “A boy 17 years of age, named E. S. Ruggles, son of Col. Ruggles late of the US ARmy and now commanding a body of the rebels at Fredericksburg, Va., has ben arrested in New York as an emissary of Jeff Davis.” [Daily Evening Standard (New Bedford, MA), 1 July 1861]
2 All civilians who were taken on board the steamship Joseph Whitney.
3 All civilians, some police commissioners, who were facing charges of treason.
4 George Miles of Petersburg and John Garnett Guthrie of Richmond, agents of tobacco houses, and had collected $170,000 in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, were arrested and confined in Fort Lafayette. A large number of letters were found upon them addressed to persons in the South.
5 Austin E. Smith was the “late Navy agent at San Francisco.” He was the son of Extra Billy Smith (CSA).
6 John Williams was an agent of the Merchants and Milners Transportation Company’s Steamers at Norfolk. “Known” secessionist.