CWT Presents Derek Maxfield - Hellmira: The Union’s Most Infamous Civil War Prison Camp—Elmira, NY

Added to Calendar: 02/10/21

lelliott19

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CivilWarTalk Presents:
Derek Maxfield
on his book
Hellmira: The Union’s Most Infamous Civil War Prison Camp—Elmira, NY
Wednesday, February 10, 2021, at 8:30pm EST


In A Live Video Presentation

Long called by some the “Andersonville of the North,” the prisoner of war camp in Elmira, New York, is remembered as the most notorious of all Union-run POW camps. It existed for only a year—from the summer of 1864 to July 1865—but in that time, and for long after, it became darkly emblematic of man’s inhumanity to man. Confederate prisoners called it “Hellmira.”

Hellmira: The Union’s Most Infamous Civil War Prison Camp—Elmira, NY, published by Savas Beatie last year, is part of the Emerging Civil War series. In this book, Maxfield contextualizes the rise of prison camps during the Civil War, explores the failed exchange of prisoners, and tells the tale of the creation and evolution of the prison camp in Elmira. In the end, he suggests that it is time to move on from the blame game and see prisoner of war camps—North and South—as a great humanitarian failure.

Author, Derek Maxfield, is an associate professor of history at Genesee Community College in Batavia, New York. He holds a BA in History from SUNY Cortland, an MA in History from Villanova University, and was a PhD candidate at the University of Buffalo, where he is ABD. In 2013, Maxfield was awarded the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities and, more recently, was awarded the 2019 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.

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lelliott19

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A fascinating topic. I can't wait to read the book! As promised, here is the content from the chat log. If we weren't able to get to your question due to the time, I apologize. I have sent the questions to Mr. Maxfield as well.

8:30 Robert G. - My mother was a Maxfield. Her father was born in Bloomfield, NJ

8:41 Gerald (Jerry) S. - Why was the Elmira prison so far away from the civil war battles?

8:42 @Gary Morgan - Given a choice, would you rather have been a POW in Elmira or Andersonville?

8:42 @Red Raider - What happened to the soldiers who refused to take the oath of loyalty at the end of the war.

8:44 @lelliott19 - Where did they find the original CivilWar period materials to construct the building? Had it been there nearby all this time?

8:44 Remy C. - Where would you rank Pea Patch Island, Fort Delaware, DE to Elmira?

8:45 Zola N. - One of my great-great-grand uncles was a prisoner at Andersonville. His name was Thomas Geer.

8:46 Larry D. - Who decided what prisoners went to what camp?

8:47 Greg M. - Interesting that the camp’s existence was unrecognized until recently. Our POW camp Camp Douglas in Chicago is still unknown, mostly unmarked, and the very large mass grave is only ever acknowledged when people protest the Confederate flags around the gravesite.

8:47 @bdtex - What was the average age of POWs at Elmira?

8:52 Quincy M. - Why was Richmond the go to area for POW camps, in the early war?

8:55 @lelliott19 - Did the Wool/Cobb agreement from earlier - April 1862 - include provisions for the exchange of African American soldiers?

8:56 @NFB22 - I'm not one to ask questions like this, but given the times and the talk of "revisionist" history. As we have seen much written on Andersonville, why do you personally believe there isn't more written on Elmira, Camp Douglas, Camp Morton, etc.

9:04 @jvarnell - We have a ancestor who was imprisoned and died there. We took our family to visit his grave. We took a can of NC soil and spread over his grave.

9:04 William M. - @jvarnell we also have an ancestor who died there. Would love to take some alabama clay up to him

9:08 Robert C. - Do you know how Maj. Henry Colt is related to Sam?

9:12 Richard R.- Does anyone know if there was a union prison camp in Tuscaloosa Alabama? My 3rd gg father was with the 77th Ohio and was taken prisoner on April 8th 62 during the rear action after Shiloh. I only know that he died in Tuscaloosa.

9:14 @ucvrelics - What is your take on Grant stopping the exchange program leading to camps such as Elmira and Andersonville

9:15 Victoria (Vicky) H. - Was Cholera a problem?? Maybe not as drinking water was safe.

9:21 @Red Raider - Do you have a count of injured and killed from the train wreck?

9:31 Edward F. - Thanks for great talk, Derek. Must exist stage right.

9:32 Quincy M. - I always like your talks Dad, but i'm gonna have to go now. Good job!

9:43 @jvarnell - Mr. Maxfield, thank you....very even handed presentation.

9:44 @Gary Morgan - Were there cases of prisoner on prisoner crime or violence that was comparable to the raiders at Andersonville?

9:44 William M. - Thank you so much sir!

9:45 John P. - Thank you, sir. I will seek out your book. And thanks to CivilWarTalk for the presentation.

9:45 Richard R. - Thank you Mr. Maxfield. Very interesting!

9:46 @Dave DuBrucq - Thank you very much for this most interesting presentation. A great Learning experience.

9:48 Patrick S. - Which disease caused the most fatalities.

9:50 @Gary Morgan The mortality rate among the guards at Andersonville is estimated at about 10% (about 200 of the guards died). Was there any mortality among the guards at Elmira?

9:51 Chuck A. - my Gg grandfather,George C. Ash is said to have escaped and returned to Elmira prison.. when the war ended, he took the oath and returned to Lake City Fla. How would soldiers get home? walk, train?

9:51 William M. - I've been struggling to find primary sources on Elmira for a school project - do you have any recommendations? I know you mentioned a couple memoirs already

9:51 Zola N. - My great-great-grandfather was imprisoned at Pea Patch Island, Fort Delaware. He was with the 48th Virginia.

9:53 @NFB22 If we get a moment at the end, I can give a bit more input to Derek on Fort Delaware/Pea Patch Island.

10:09 @NH Civil War Gal please go to savasbeatie.com to order Mr. Maxfield's book Hellmira: The Union’s Most Infamous Civil War Prison Camp—Elmira, NY Put a note in to request a signed book plate.

10:12 Patrick S. - Thanks. Very interesting talk.

10:13 @VaMtLady - Thank you so much

10:13 William M. - Thanks yall !

10:14 William M. - I'm here!

10:15 William M. - Thank you so much Mr. Maxfield. Sorry I can't unmute, my mic is broken

10:16 William M. - And thank you as well for getting to my question :smile:

10:21 Remy C. - Thank you!
 

7thWisconsin

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I'm curious if there was a "Criminal element" at Elmira, comparable to the raiders at Andersonville and the Muggers at Salisbury.
To the best of my knowledge, there was not an organized prisoner gang like the Raiders, but there were significant problems with FEDERAL soldiers in town. At the beginning of the War, there was a regiment passing through Elmira and quartering at the training camp. They swore they would break up all the saloons on Water Street. This precipitated a massive brawl which broke up when the garrison commander called troops out and aimed a cannon down the street. The local newspapers called it ¨The Battle of Elmira¨ at the time. At the end of the War, there was a gang of former soldiers that operated at the bridge over the Chemung. They stole things and charged tolls for civilians crossing the river. Garrison troops had to break them up, too, with shots fired.
 
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To the best of my knowledge, there was not an organized prisoner gang like the Raiders, but there were significant problems with FEDERAL soldiers in town.

Interesting. So that was before the site became a prison camp?

My focus is on prisoner on prisoner crimes, since I wrote a book on the Raiders at Andersonville. I suspect that there were elements of it in all of the camps, but Andersonville is the only place where legal proceedings were enacted to try and put a stop to it.
 

7thWisconsin

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Nov 21, 2014
Interesting. So that was before the site became a prison camp?

My focus is on prisoner on prisoner crimes, since I wrote a book on the Raiders at Andersonville. I suspect that there were elements of it in all of the camps, but Andersonville is the only place where legal proceedings were enacted to try and put a stop to it.
The "battle" was in 1861. The bridge gang was operating in 1865 after they had mustered out.
 

jvarnell

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NC
He did a great job, one of the few times you'll hear about the camp at Elmira being hellish out of choice of those administering it versus Andersonville being hellish due to overall conditions there (guards and prisoners suffered alike).
 
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@NFB22 - You asked why there aren't many books on the smaller POW camps. I think it comes down to economonics - publishers tend to not publish things unless they see a profit in it. They pass on books with a limited potential market. A prison book on a small prison might do well locally or with descendants, but would be unlikely to earn back the cost of publishing, marketing and distributing it. When I went to pitch my book, I cited the number of visitors to Andersonville Historic Site the previous year (which, luckily happened to be the prison's sesquicentennial, so the numbers were up), and the fact that at one point I had already spoken to a rep from Eastern National, the organization that stocks the gift shops at National Parks and that he'd already expressed interest in stocking the book when it came out. It wasn't enough to tell them why my book was groundbreaking and there was nothing like it on the market (it's the first book ever published that deals exclusively with the raiders and a lot of what I found went against the "established" version of events), I had to convince them that there was money to be made by publishing it.

This may change some with the advent of self publishing. A writer can skip the traditional publisher and create their own book, taking on a bigger percent of the proceeds, but it would have to be a total labor of love - or lunacy - to spend years researching and writing and then publish knowing that the money you might make from it probably wouldn't even cover the cost of your laptop.
 

lupaglupa

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Richard R, who was your ancestor who died at Tuscaloosa? The genealogy folks on the board love a good mystery/challenge.
@lelliott19 I'm assuming the Richard R who was at the presentation isn't a CWT member - is there any way to message him and invite hom to join and post a question? We do, as @Gary Morgan says, love a good challenge :sneaky:
 
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