There were twenty-two Civil War prisons at various times in Richmond, Virginia. Many doubled as hospitals. Early in the war, the conditions were not as deplorable as they got later on, when over-crowding pushed the limits. When those prisons reached their capacity, many of the prisoners were transferred further south to prisons in Salisbury, NC, Andersonville, GA and others.
Several of the Richmond prisons are infamous and well known including Belle Isle Prison and Libby prison. Many are not known even by enthusiasts.
Those Richmond prisons include Barrett’s Factory Prison, Castle Godwin, Castle Lightning, Castle Thunder, Crew and Pemberton Prison, Franklin Street Guard House, General Hospital #21 – Gwathmey Factory Hospital, General Hospital #2 – Military Prison Hospital, General Hospital #22 – Howard’s Factory Hospital, General Hospital #23, Grant’s Factory Hospital – Wayside Hospital, Harwood Hospital – North Carolina Hospital, Officer’s Prison on 18th Street, Ross Factory Hospital, Scotts Factory Prison, Smith Factory Prison, The Cage, The State Penitentiary, and Yarbrough Factory Hospital -- 2nd Alabama Hospital. Purposely left out of the list was the one with the most interesting name of all – The Prison opposite Castle Thunder.
Belle Isle Prison was on a 54 acre island in the James River in downtown Richmond. It held Union prisoners of war between 1862 and 1865. Unlike all the other Richmond prisoners that were located in buildings, prisoners at Belle Isle live in tents.
Libby Prison served as a processing center for all Union POWs and was converted early in the war into an officers-only prison.
Most evidence of the Richmond prisons was destroyed by fire when Richmond was occupied late in the war.
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