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Civil War and Reconstruction
The North During the Civil War
Forgotten Chapter in Lafayette's Civil War

The following document is an excerpt from the American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 collection from Indiana. It appears to be an article from a local newspaper. It recounts a story about creating facilities, including a hospital, for Southern prisoners in 1862. Do you find anything surprising about the treatment rebel (or "secesh" for secessionist) prisoners received from Lafayette, Indiana, townspeople?

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In its price one of the imposing structures of Lafayette's earlier days, the graying three-story business building at 209-11 South Street remains as a nearly forgotten monument to an interesting chapter of the city's Civil War history about which little has been written. In this building, now 81 years old, a hospital for rebel prisoners sent to the city was raintained for several weeks during the late winter of 1862. They had been captured in the battle at Fort Donelson which resulted in a major victory for the Union army.

Between 10,000 and 15,000 prisoners were taken [and?] 6,000 of them were sent to Indianapolis which was not able to take care of the great number. Lafayette, Richmond and Terre Haute agreed to accept from 800 to 1,000 each. The 800 sent to Lafayette remained quartered in the city for nearly a month. That was 76 years ago. . . .

Many Young Men

Most of the prisoners were young men, pale, beardless boys, some under seventeen, members of the 32nd and 41st Tennessee regiments. They had served but four and one-half months. Few were in uniforms, most wearing butternut jeans. All carried huge bundles, containing blankets, etc,, and many had old fashioned skillets of the hoe cake pattern . . . .

Provide Hospital

Many of the prisoners had severe colds, and 12 or 14 were seriously ill upon their arrival. The widespread illness among them was explained a little later by a prisoner, in a published statement. He related that they had suffered twenty days of unparalleled exposure and hardships before and after their capture.

This condition [suggested?] immediate steps to provide hospitalisation. A number of women, calling to their assistance Mr. Benbridge and J. B. Falley, with the consent of Col. John S. Williams, commanding officer of the 63rd regiment, guarding the prisoners, rented the "large and commodious room" known as Walsh's hall, now at 209.11 South Street, for a hospital. The room quickly was fitted with beds. The executive committee of women handling this matter was made up of Mrs. Lewis Falley, Miss Fields Stockwell, and Mrs. Dr. O.L. Clark [page 4]. . . .

Scandals in Camp

Lafayette had its own scandals in connection with the prisoners. April 7 an order was issued barring women from serving in the hospital, after there had been complaints they were sympathizing too much with the rebel sentiments of the prisoners. The escape April 29, of William March, brought this situation to a head. A grand jury (where members had an average of six children) is reported to have questioned six or eight ladies with reference to the escape, but [elicited?] nothing of value. The jury, asking instructions of Judge Test, hinted other scandals, such as [citizens?] holding private conferences with prisoners in their offices, and prisoners dining and visiting in local homes without guards.
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View the entire article from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.