Filed Under Civil War

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

Confederate Prison Compound Historical Marker Before 1861, site of warehouse serving Buffalo Bayou shipping. At times during 1861-1865, the building here housed prisoners of war. In Jan. 1863 it held 350 Federals captured by Houston -- based Confederate Army Gen. John B. Magruder. The city also had two other compounds where prisoners of war were held. Among many Houston enterprises vital to the Confederacy were troop training fields, military hospitals, an ammunition depot, two foundries, and five railroads. The city was headquarters for the military district of Texas, which included Arizona and New Mexico. Source: Historical Marker
Confederate General John Bankhead Magruder Robert E. Lee assigned Magruder to the command of the District of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. He arrived in Texas on October 10, 1862, and assumed command on November 29. His greatest success was his brilliant recapture of Galveston on January 1, 1863, and the consequent, if temporary, dispersal of the Union blockading fleet. On August 17, 1864, however, he was transferred to the command of the Department of Arkansas. After the war, he returned to Texas to make his home in Houston until his death on February 19, 1871. Source: Cutrer, Thomas W. "Magruder, John Bankhead," Handbook of Texas Online, January 18, 2013, https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fma15.
Lt. Benjamin Bartlett Lt. Benjamin Bartlett of the 42nd Regiment, Massachusetts Militia, arrived in Galveston, Texas, on December 19, 1862. The 42nd Regiment participated in the Battle of Galveston on January 1, 1863, until their reluctant surrender. Magruder's men captured the soldiers of the 42nd. The Confederates took the enlisted men to Houston. However, their captors soon paroled them. The officers spent time in Houston and Huntsville before being sent to Camp Groce, a POW camp in Hempstead. It was at Camp Groce that Lt. Bartlett died during an outbreak of yellow fever. Source: Schmidt, Jim, Lt. Benjamin Bartlett - Died - August 22, 1863," Civil War Medicine (And Writing), August 22, 2013, http://civilwarmed.blogspot.com/2013/08/lt-benjamin-bartlett-died-august-22-1863.html.
View of the Compound, circa 1865 This is the view from southeast of the warehouses that housed the prison compound, circa 1865. These warehouses were used to store cotton and various mercantile goods before and after the Civil War. Source: "Buffalo Bayou History Boat Tours with Louis Aulbach," Culture Map Houston, http://houston.culturemap.com/eventdetail/buffalo-bayou-history-boat-tours-louis-aulbach/.
Merchants and Manufacturers Building Historical Marker This building was constructed to house the activities of Houston's merchants and manufacturers during the post-World War I economic boom. Its location provided access to water, rail, and truck transportation of goods. Completed in 1930, the M & M building, as it came to be known, was noted for its structural and functional design. It prominently features cast concrete art deco detailing. Source: Historical Marker
Merchants and Manufacturers Building (current day) The Merchants and Manufacturers (M & M) Building was built in the 1930s. The building's original purpose was to serve as office and retail space for the city's many manufacturers. However, first as a result of the Great Depression and then urban flight, the building never lived up to the hopes of its builders. In 1966, the South Texas Junior College moved into the building and went on to become the University of Houston Downtown in 1974. The M & M building now serves as the main academic building for the University of Houston Downtown. Source: Christian, Garna L., The Long Journey of the Merchants and Manufacturers Building," Houston History Magazine, January 2011, http://houstonhistorymagazine.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Christian-mm.pdf.

"Downtown Houston," Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopedias, http://en.academic.ru/dic.nsf/enwiki/196774.

Location

1 Main Street Houston, Texas 77002

Metadata

http://houstoncivilwarprisoncompound.weebly.com/
David Buie, “The Houston Civil War Prisoner of War Compound,” East Texas History, accessed September 30, 2022, https://easttexashistory.org/items/show/139.