Sunday, July 8, 2018

Elmira Civil War Memorial Rendezvous and Prison Camp

original building plus barracks replica under construction 2017
This past month, on June 9, 2018, I spent some time exploring history from 154 years ago, right in my own hometown. Elmira lies in upstate New York, right on the border of Pennsylvania, smack dab in the middle of the Twin Tiers. It is the county seat for Chemung County, where approximately 85,000 people live. It is a city in transition from a past manufacturing town to rediscovering itself as a history hub and tourist destination. And history it has, aplenty. I have written previous posts on some if its claims to fame, including its Underground Railroad activity, a post about John W. Jones--a male Harriet Tubman figure, and Rachel Gleason, the fourth woman in the U.S. to get her MD. Elmira was also the home to the first college to offer women a baccalaureate degree equal to men's. Nearby was the site of a major Revolutionary War battle, the Battle of Newtown, where Continental Army General Sullivan defeated Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant and his allied British forces. Mark Twain resided in Elmira, writing several of his works here including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 
barracks replica completed 2018

But the focus on this sultry late spring afternoon near the banks of the Chemung River was the Civil War prison camp which had housed over 12,000 Confederates from July 6, 1864 until mustering out after the end of the war. On this day last month, a replica of one of the barracks was dedicated, and the public was invited to partake in the efforts of dedicated history lovers who have gone to great efforts to preserve this important chapter of our country's story. 

miniature model of barracks
interior of barracks showing sleeping bunks
Construction of the memorial site began in 2016 when private citizens purchased a piece of property near where the original prison camp footprint had been. At the beginning of the Civil War, acreage along the banks of the Chemung River, leased by the Federal government from a gentleman by the name of Foster, had been designated as one of three barracks in Elmira used for a recruiting and training ground for new soldiers. Elmira was only one of three recruiting rendezvous in the state due to its railroad connections. In 1864, when the War Department put an end to prisoner exchange, barracks number three was chosen to house the burgeoning prisoner of war population. Infamous for the highest death rates of any prison camp during the Civil War, Elmira had an overcrowding problem as well as rampant disease from a stagnant water issue at Foster's Pond. 

 Federal uniform coat and rifle
Interestingly, Mark Twain's father-in-law, the local businessman and erstwhile abolitionist Jervis Langdon, was commissioned to build the original barracks for the U. S government for $200 per building. The interior photos show the board and batten construction of the barracks, at 88' long and 12' high. Each bunk slept 2-3 prisoners, and there were two rows of bunks on each side, top and bottom. Wood burning stoves, two each barrack, were hardly sufficient to keep prisoners warm during the brutal winters. 
patron memorial brick walkway

At the conclusion of the war in 1865, the government's lease of Foster's land expired, and the buildings remaining were auctioned off. A local citizen had the foresight to preserve the wood from an original building purchased from the prison camp grounds, and it has remained in storage for these 154 years. In 2017 it was reconstructed, and the barracks replica started alongside, which is now complete. (see top photo, building on left with sliding barn door)

Also part of the memorial site, a garden has been planted, featuring the state flower from each of the eleven states in the Confederacy. North Carolina's Flowering Dogwood, South Carolina's Flowering Jasmine, and Alabama's Camellia grow here, to name a few. A memorial brick walkway, with the names of the patrons and friends, Lays alongside the garden. Plans are underway to provide a reading room with historical documents and other related literature at the nearby Foster House, which housed Union officers during the war.

Kathleen L. Maher has had an infatuation with books and fictional heroes ever since her preschool crush, Peter Rabbit. She has a novella releasing with BARBOUR in the 2018 Victorian Christmas Brides collection, featuring her hometown of Elmira, New York. Her debut historical, Bachelor Buttons, blends her Irish heritage and love of the American Civil War. She won the American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis contest in 2012. Kathleen shares an old farmhouse in upstate New York with her husband, children, and a small zoo of rescued animals.


  1. Thanks for the post! Very interesting.

  2. Exploring and visiting historical places is so exciting. Great post with the pictures.

  3. Hi, Connie. Thank you for your encouraging comments every day. You’re awesome.