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Harrisburg's Civil War  
African American men crowd around a Union army recruiting station.
Harrisburg and the Central Pennsylvania region in the Civil War


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Year of Jubilee (1863)

Black Confederate Prisoners at Camp Simmons

There were some Confederate prisoners brought for incarceration in Harrisburg that piqued the interest of local people, and other soldiers, for a different reason. As noted earlier, the campaign leading up to and including the Battle of Antietam yielded many Confederate prisoners from the Army of Northern Virginia, hundreds of whom were brought by train to Harrisburg.

Among these prisoners were about sixty African Americans who had been captured with the Southern troops. All of them were confined in Camp Curtin until long-term imprisonment could be worked out by military authorities in Washington. They were described by a soldier of the Sixteenth Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry, whose camp was next to the prisoner area, in a letter home from Camp Curtin dated 18 September 1862. The Union soldier, Private Wallace Mitchell, wrote, “There are about 200 Rebel prisoners quartered a few rods from my tent. They are the nasties[t] looking set I ever saw. About 1/3 negroes. Many of them dressed in our soldiers clothes.”

The African American soldiers were wagoners whose wagon train was captured by Union troops near Williamsport, Maryland on the sixteenth. The Telegraph reprinted a news item from a Chambersburg newspaper, which gave details about the Confederate African American prisoners: “Some sixty-five four horse wagons, with numbers of loose horses and mules, were brought to town and driven at once to camp Slifer, where they were handed over to the commandant, and the drivers, mostly negroes, were lodged with the other prisoners in the jail yard. The wagons were mostly loaded with ammunition and had been attached to Jackson’s army.” The paper then reported that all the prisoners “were sent to Harrisburg.” The prisoners arrived in Harrisburg the next morning and were gradually, over the course of the next few weeks, sent to the Union’s prisoner of war camp at Fort Delaware.


James S. Miller, “From Erie to Harrisburg in 1862,” Bugle 2, no. 3 (July 1992): 3.
The actual location of the Confederate prisoner camp and the Pennsylvania cavalry camp was in Camp Simmons, a smaller adjunct camp located just north and to the west of Camp Curtin. The modern day location would be just northeast of the intersection of North Third Street and Polyclinic Avenue (old Reel’s Lane). Miller, Training of an Army, 7, 107.

Pennsylvania Daily Telegraph, 16 September 1862.

This article is excerpted from The Year of Jubilee, chapter nine.




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