The Houston Civil War Prisoner of War Compound

Today the former site of the Houston prisoner of war camp is located on the site of a younger though historical building in its own right, the Merchant and Manufacturer’s building. If not for a state historical marker placed in 1965, there would be indication that in the heart of one of the largest cities in America there was a civil war prison. The prison was just two warehouses converted into a prison camp. However, it was the oldest prison camp in Texas, opening months before the larger and more well-known camps - Camp Ford and Camp Groce.

The majority of the prisoners housed in Houston were members of the 42nd Massachusetts volunteers captured at the Battles of Galveston on January 1, 1863, and Sabine Pass on September 8, 1863. The Confederates transported the prisoners to Houston where they held them until they were paroled to the Union. Because of Confederate and Texas law, however, the handful of African Americans with the 42nd Massachusetts volunteers and the African-American sailors serving aboard the USS Harriet Lane were either sold into slavery or sent to the state penitentiary in Huntsville.

The 42nd Massachusetts volunteers arrived in Galveston in late December 1862 to occupy the city. Unfortunately, 2,000 Confederate troops led by General John Magruder, stormed the island with the aid of fire from artillery batteries and two riverboats. The boats forced the ships blockading Galveston off their posts and caused the USS Harriet Lane to run aground. After a concerted effort that drew praise from General Magruder, the Union troops surrendered. On January 2, 1863, 347 members of the 42nd Massachusetts and crew of the USS Harriet Lane were loaded onto train cars and taken to Houston, Texas.

Magruder's men confined the enlisted men to the prison compound, except for the time they had to travel throughout the city in groups of three or four while under armed guard. The officers had separate accommodations across the bayou. They could travel freely throughout the city on “parole of honor”, which amounted to a promise not to attempt to escape or aid their government. The officers, however, rarely ventured out.

Overall, the prisoners were treated well and even given the same rations as Confederate soldiers. Their diet consisted of a type of hard cornbread called “corn dodgers,” a type of coffee made by mixing burned corn with hot water, and an allotment of salt beef. As Private Alexander Hobbs (prisoner) stated, “Many men complained of the diet as being very hard to get used to and it caused some men to come down with diarrhea. For the most part, however, the diet seemed to have been adequate."

Ultimately the majority of prisoners in Houston were either sent to other Confederate camps or Union parole camps. It was in one of these camps that the majority of the 42nd Massachusetts was sent, until their discharge in the summer of 1863.

Images

Map

1 Main Street Houston, Texas 77002